This one took longer than I expected to get out. Work picked up. I got a new—and AWESOME—game, The Wonderful 101, which I would highly recommend anyone with a Wii U try. Typical excuses. Let's get down to business.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything that doesn't belong to me.

One minute the Great Peeko was in space, orbiting Earth. The next…

It was on another world entirely.

The great golden ship rematerialized in a canyon so wide that the two cliff faces of red rock towering upwards on either side were in no danger of touching the sides of the Great Peeko. The canyon walls rose up and up for miles and delved down and down for miles, cleaving deep beneath the surface of the planet. The top of the canyon, which would normally be open sky, was eclipsed by dozens of saucer-shaped ships packed so tightly together their hulls were almost touching each other, their undersides lit up brightly to illuminate the canyon. And it's a good thing they were there, too, for there was quite a lot to illuminate. Thousands of buildings, windows, galleries, and other structures had been carved into the canyon walls, going all the way up to the top and extending down to the bottom of the fissure, where a river of silvery-white water surged and seethed as it flowed along the canyon's contours. Bridges and walkways crisscrossed the canyon, some so thin and narrow that only a single Pokémon could possibly cross, and others were so massive that beehive-shaped buildings grew not just from their upper surfaces but from their undersides as well. These giant bridges were usually supported by tremendous statues of Elgyem and Beheeyem carved from the living rock. Similar statues jutted from the walls all over the place in varying sizes, ranging from large to ridiculously big. Some were so large they had been turned into residences, or even had buildings carved into their sides or growing from their outstretched arms. More flying saucers, smaller saucer-shaped vessels, and Elgyem and Beheeyem floated through the air, pausing and turning to stare at the ship that had so suddenly appeared in their midst.

The first thing that went through everyone on the bridge's minds was awe and wonder. "We're…we're really here…" Lily whispered, eyes wide. "Another world…another planet…"

"So…this is what lies beyond the sky? Unbelievable…" said Michael.

"Incredible…" Dawn murmured.

"We've traveled to many strange places, Ash…but another planet…damn," Tenjin said.

The Lucario nodded in agreement. "I know. We're farther from home than we've ever been before. We'll have some great stories to tell everyone once we get back to Pokemon Square, huh?"

"Definitely," the Pikachu agreed.

"Huh. Not bad," Misty said grudgingly.

"Something like this wouldn't look out of place back in Fichina," Boa commented.

"Just…just look at that," said the awestruck Frank, almost forgetting to take pictures. Keyword being almost.

"It's so red!" Tiny commented.

"That's because the rocks have oxidized, making everything look reddish in hue," Leo said hoarsely, unable to take his eyes off the astounding vista outside.

Tracey was weeping so hard he was having trouble seeing clearly enough to draw in his sketchbook. "For years, I've dreamed of visiting an alien planet…and now I'm finally here…it's more wonderful and beautiful than I ever imagined!"

"Just look at that architecture!" Oak gushed. "The size and scale is enormous! I've seen many cliffside dwellings over the years, but none as sophisticated and expansive as this! The level of technology necessary to construct and maintain such a city is staggering, far beyond what we have available back on Earth! Why, even without any of my archaeological tools on hand, judging by the strata and the grain of the rock, I can safely say that many of these buildings have been here for millions of years! I wouldn't be surprised if the Martian civilization existed at the same time as the Ancients who colonized what would one day be Treasure Town…the insights and knowledge they must be able to share with us on the history of the solar system are unfathomable! Oh, I knew I made the right decision coming here!"

"Amazing, Cap'n!" Molly said. "I think this is the furthest our warp drive's ever taken us!"

"Ha! It wouldn't surprise me if we manage to go even further one day!" Fat Pete said.

Barbedo nodded. "Aye, it was always a dream of ours to sail to the stars…another planet be a fine start."

"Peeko…we made it…thank you for watching over us on our voyage…" Briney whispered, shutting his eyes briefly.

"Ahhh, the Valles Marineris. Been a long time since we were last here, huh, sis?" Bridget said.

"Mainly because the locals banned you for life after the last 'party' you threw here," Ciela said.

"Pssh, those Martians have no idea how to have a good time…" Bridget groused. "And it was thousands of years ago, they've probably forgotten about it by now!...right?"

Sasha frowned. While the alien city was magnificent, something seemed…wrong. "Something's not right here…"

"What do you mean?" Boa asked, reluctantly taking her eyes away from the view.

Sasha shook her head uncertainly. "I…do not know. I just feel like there's something…not right with this picture…"

"Maybe it's the sky? Or rather, the fact that there isn't one?" Tracey suggested.

"Yeah, why've they got so many ships up there?" Tiny asked.

"Camouflage. They're generating a cloaking field keeping the Nihilators from finding the Martians hiding out down here," Ciela explained.

"That must be a pretty big field to require so many ships," Tenjin commented.

"It's a pretty big canyon. Lot of ground to cover," Bridget said.

"Yes, the lack of a sky is disconcerting…but no, that's not what bothers me…" Sasha said with a frown.

Ash blinked, suddenly getting an inkling of what Sasha was talking about. "Wait…this is a city, right? Home to tremendous amounts of Pokémon?"

"That's one of the definitions of a city, yes," Flint said.

"Then…why are there so few Pokémon out and about?" Ash asked.

Misty blinked. "Huh. That's actually an intelligent question, Ash. I'm surprised."

Everyone did a double-take and took a closer look at the canyon city. Ash was right. While there were several Martians and ships swarming about, there were only a few dozen visible. The rest of the city seemed eerily empty.

Michael frowned and closed his eyes, the gem on his forehead glowing. "I can sense many spirits here, but few living souls…the spirits here are…different from what I'm used to, but…" He grimaced. "I…I can hear them…their sorrow…their anguish…their rage…they're weeping…"

"That is not a good sign," Boa said in concern.

"Mister DeKappa, scan for life," Briney ordered.

"Aye-aye, Captain!" Leo said, fingers flying over his controls. His brow furrowed in concern. "…That can't be right. I'm only picking up…maybe five hundred and thirty-seven life-forms. There are several dozen other signatures that I'm guessing belong to whatever vampires Nosferatina's made, and a number of others I can't quite figure out, but…that's it. Only five hundred and thirty-seven life-forms for hundreds and hundreds of miles."

"…That…that can't be right! How could so few Pokémon live in a city this massive?!" Courtney protested.

Tiny nodded. "Yeah, it's so big I can't even see where it stops! It looks like it covers the entire canyon on both sides!"

"Maybe there are some in the ships up there, and Leo can't detect them because of that cloaking field?" Dawn suggested.

Leo shook his head. "Nope, our sensors are way more sophisticated than what the Nihilators are using since we're using magic and ancient Pokelantean tech and junk. If the cloaking field were blocking my scans, then I wouldn't be able to pick up the five hundred-plus readings I already have. There's a couple of Martians in the saucers, but most of them are empty. I'm guessing they're all on autopilot and slave-linked to each other for the sake of efficiency."

"That would be a wise assumption, yes," Ciela said.

"But…then where is everyone, if not on the ships?" Molly asked, rustling her bony wings. "This looks like the kind of place that'd have millions and millions of people living in it!"

Princess Boa nodded in agreement. "New Avalon is a massive city as well, and it's certainly not as…empty as this place."

"…According to Bob and Dean's reports, Oblivion's Shadow unleashed a telepathic plague on the Martians when he first came to this world, wiping out almost the entire population," Lily said slowly. "Those who weren't killed were either enslaved or escaped here, to the Valles Marineris."

A grim silence fell on the bridge as everyone considered this. "How many Martians does Oblivion's Shadow have in captivity?" Joy asked softly.

"Less than a hundred," Bridget said.

"And how many were there before he unleashed this plague?" Tenjin asked.

"…Three point five billion," Ciela said, closing her eyes.

They gaped at her in disbelief. "He…he killed…that many?!" Boa exclaimed.

"There were a lot of nightmares generated by that genocide," Bridget said soberly.

"The planet…the planet itself mourns…" Michael whispered, teeth clenched, tears running down his cheeks. "So many have died…their blood turning the soil even redder…their screams haunting the wind, filling them with rage…and such sorrow…a great wound has been dealt to this world. One that it may never heal from."

There was a loud crunching noise. Everyone looked around to see what it was…and saw that Ash's paws had dug into his armrests so hard they'd been crushed. "Six hundred out of a population of three point five billion," the Lucario said quietly. "That's all that's left? That's all there are?"

"…Looks that way," Leo said, double-checking his instruments to see if there was an error. There wasn't one.

"Six hundred out of three point five billion," Ash repeated slowly. "He almost wiped out the population of an entire planet just so he could build a base of operations here."

"Well…it wouldn't be the first time…" Tenjin said, shaken.

"The last time he was planning to bring everyone back. Has he shown any indication of planning to resurrect the Martians? Has he?!" Ash demanded.

"Two whole planets…he's killed the population of two whole planets now?!" Misty snarled, just as angry.

"Kill him."

"He might intend to bring them back," Sasha said. "But even if he is…it does not excuse his wiping out so many in the first place."

Ash's Aura flared, once. When it died down, his seat wasn't there anymore. "I'm going to kill him," he said calmly, which in many ways was even more terrifying than if he was screaming in rage.

"I-I thought you were going to purify-" Boa said.

"I am. I'm going to purify him to death. I knew he was evil. But this…this is too much," Ash snarled. "I will remove that blight from the face of the universe. And I will make it hurt. I will make him feel what the Martians, what everyone else he's hurt experienced right before I destroy him utterly!"

"You will not be the only one," Dawn affirmed. "A sin of this magnitude…on top of all his other wickedness…it cannot go unpunished. You shall remove Oblivion's Shadow from your brother, Ash…and we shall cause him such pain that he will beg you for death." Frank frowned at that, as did several of the other members of the bridge crew. Purify? Brother? What were they talking about?

"Yeah," Leo agreed, still staring at his screen, having run the life scans a third and fourth time. "It's bad enough he's fucked up our own world. But this…this is unforgivable."

"We will avenge them," Lily said firmly. "All of them. The Martians, and the people Oblivion's Shadow has harmed on Earth."

"The spirits cry for a savior…for someone to avenge the fallen…for someone to end the torment the very presence of the Nihilators is causing here," Michael whispered, trembling. "Oblivion's Shadow's presence is like a virus, tainting and corrupting and killing everything he touches. His very existence is disrupting the planet's well-being. If this world is ever to heal…he and all the Nihilators must be removed by any means necessary."

"We've traveled millions of miles across the gulfs of space to reach this place…" Briney said. "We'd have traveled even further, I think, to rid the universe of such an evil."

"Three point five billion…I can't even count that high. I can't even imagine a number that big," Fat Pete confessed.

"Neither can I," Tiny said. "It's staggering."

Barbedo shook his head slowly. "We've wiped out the populations of villages, towns, and entire islands…but a genocide of this magnitude…no. Even if we had possessed the means back in the day, we'd never have done something like this, no matter how big the loot we'd have gotten from it."

Iron Gut Caruso nodded in agreement. "Aye. If we killed everyone, who'd there be left to steal from and carouse with?"

"I don't understand…why is everyone so shocked? Didn't we already know Oblivion's Shadow wiped out most of the Martians?" Tracey asked in confusion.

"We knew it intellectually, Tracey…" Oak said gravely. "But it is another thing to truly realize it on a deeper level, to see the effects with your own eyes. Three point five billion people…that's practically an extinction event. And one mon did all that? He truly must be the most powerful Pokémon alive…"

"No matter how powerful he is, he shall be brought to justice," Boa affirmed. She clutched the hilt of her sword. "My blade thirsts to drink his blood…to rend his flesh, and to punish him for all the evil he has wrought."

Tenjin narrowed his eyes. "Vengeance is not in the samurai code…but I think in this instance, we can make an exception."

"The peoples of Mars and the Moon have been great friends for eons," Ciela said sadly. "We lost many friends, people we've known for thousands of years, when the Shadow unleashed his plague."

"My Master took no pleasure in harvesting their souls…" Bridget said, puffing on her cigarette. "But he will take great pleasure in making the Nihilators pay for it."

"As will I," Sasha said sternly.

"As will all of us," Dawn added. Everyone on the bridge nodded in agreement.

"I'm picking up movement outside!" Leo announced abruptly.

"We can see that, Mister DeKappa. We have a big screen," Briney said dryly, pointing to the viewscreen, which showed the Elgeyem and Beheeyem were moving around outside in a strange pattern.

"Permission to open fire, Cap'n?" Caruso asked.

"Are you serious?!" Ash asked incredulously. "After everything we just talked about, you're seriously advocating killing them?!"

"I don't care if they're endangered or not, if they're a threat to this ship, I'll happily render their entire species extinct," Caruso said firmly. "It's me job to shoot those who'd shoot us, ain't it?"

"Be that as it may, I do not believe that will be necessary, Mister Caruso," Briney said. "Look."

They looked. Their jaws dropped. Outside, the Martians had arranged themselves to form the words 'WELCOME TO MARS, HEROES OF EARTH!' in big glowing letters, courtesy of the flashing lights on their hands.

"Dude…it's like the ending of Water Gun Busters!" Tracey said, awed. "Just, you know, on a smaller scale."

"That ending always made me cry," Leo said mournfully.

"Yeah, me too," Frank said.

"Billions of Martians died…but some still live," Lily said. "And they have been waiting…waiting for a chance to strike back. Waiting for someone to help them reclaim their planet."

"Waiting…for us," Ash finished.

"They've been holding out for a hero, huh?" Briney said. "Guess we should give them what they asked for, then."

"They've been waiting and hoping for people like us to come and save them for years…let's not disappoint them," Tenjin agreed.

"…Why are you looking at me when you say that?" Leo asked.

"No reason," Tenjin said.

"Yeah, they've been waiting in vain. You're totally not what they need," Misty said flippantly.

Leo's console beeped. "We're receiving a message…text only. Says to follow the path to a landing site," the Squirtle reported.

"What path?" Tiny asked. Abruptly, the Martians hovering outside scattered and rearranged themselves into two rows separated by a vast distance, forming a path leading deeper into the canyon. "Oh. That path."

"Mister Pete, follow that path. And do try not to hit anything," Briney said.

"Aye-aye, Cap'n!" Fat Pete said, spinning his wheel.

Ponderously, the Great Peeko flew through the canyon, the rumble of its engines shaking the buildings on either side and causing dust accumulated over the ages and bits of loose stone to fall off and plummet into the chasm below. The golden vessel slowly, carefully steered around giant statues rising from the river and flew over and under bridges as it followed the path laid out by the Martians. As they proceeded, the canyon began to grow wider, the ground gradually sloping upwards as they moved upstream, the river below growing calmer and less turbulent as it spread out. Eventually, the way became clearer as the canyon grew too wide for more than a few bridges to be practically erected across its span, and clearer still when, without warning, the canyon abruptly opened up into an absolutely massive space that looked big enough to hold a city ten times the size of New Avalon.

In fact, it did. Aside from the ubiquitous structures carved into the walls, monolithic skyscrapers five times the size of your average city block rose from the bottom of the huge lake miles covering the floor of the great chasm, each building connected to the ones around it by a series of bridges and walkways, with statues of Martians and great etchings and carvings in what was presumably the Martian language covering the sides. In the center of the city was a massive space without buildings, in the center of which was a statue of a Beheeyem taller than the biggest Colossus in Fichina, so big it towered over all the other buildings—the highest of which reached up to its elbow!—and nearly scraped the ceiling of saucers blocking out the sky. The giant Beheeyem held a disk covered in Martian glyphs in one hand, and in the other, raised skyward, was a series of interlocking metal glyphs arranged in rings revolving around a brilliant golden light that shined across the city, a beacon of hope speaking to the triumph and power of the Martian race.

"Wow. That is a big statue," said an amazed Ash.

"Wonder if they're compensating for something…" Misty said.

"It looks quite a lot like the Statue of Freedom in New Tork City," Oak commented. "Or rather, the Statue of Freedom in New Tork City looks quite a lot like this, since I'd wager this statue came first. Hmm…wonder if the statue's builders were influenced by Martians somehow…oh well, that's one for the conspiracy theorists to debate over, I suppose."

"How'd they even build something that huge?!" Michael asked in amazement. "It's even bigger than the Tree of Beginning!"

"Martian ingenuity and technology, I guess," Leo guessed.

"And having an entire civilization of Psychics probably helped as well," Briney added.

"You usually only make statues that big if they're of a really important person or ideal," Tracey said. "Whoever that Beheeyem was—assuming it's not just a generic Beheeyem representing a particular concept—he or she must have meant a great deal to the Martian people."

"Ah, so you have been paying attention to my lectures! Well done, Tracey!" Oak said admiringly.

"So, who did the Martians think was so important they'd make such a ridiculously huge statue of them?" Boa wondered. "Not even my Mother has statues this big of her, though there have been several proposals to make one this size."

"That would be J'ann J'anzz, founder of Martian civilization as we know it today," Ciela said.

"Ages ago, Mars was suffering from war, famine, disease…all sorts of bad stuff," Bridget said. "J'ann believed the world, that her people, could be better, however, and strived to find a way to save Mars."

"After years of great suffering and adversity, she finally discovered it…the key to the salvation of her world…the Life Equation, the formula with the power to cleanse darkness from any heart," Ciela said. "With its power, she was able to unite her people and bring in a new era of peace and prosperity that lasted for countless millennia…until Oblivion's Shadow came and ruined everything."

Team Aurabolt stirred at this. "The Life Equation? Wait a minute…Ash, isn't that what…" Tenjin started.

"Purified Dawn? Yeah. It's the only thing that can counter the Anti-Life Equation possessed by the mightiest of Shadow Aura users…including Oblivion's Shadow…" Ash said.

Tiny frowned. "Daddy…can it save you, too?"

Ash sighed. "It could, theoretically…but…unfortunately, it's not that easy."

"What do you mean? Can't the Martians just tell you what it is? Er, assuming they still have it…" Michael said.

Ash shook his head. "It's not that simple."

"He's right. The Life Equation isn't something that can be told or given, it has to be discovered," Bridget said.

Ciela nodded. "Just as every life is different, so is its meaning. Therefore, every person's personal Life Equation is different as well."

"But you said J'ann was able to use the Life Equation she discovered to save Mars, and the Life Equation in Ash's book saved me," Dawn pointed out.

"While every Equation is different, they all share the same building blocks. A 'source code' of sorts," Ash explained. "You can look at this 'base' Equation and experience enlightenment…but you'll forget it once you look away if you aren't ready for its gift, though it may leave some lingering effects, like breaking the Shadow's hold on you, for example. That's why none of us can remember what the Life Equation in my book is, or why it doesn't appear even when I look for it. It can only be discovered by those whose hearts are truly ready for enlightenment. I'm guessing that the struggles J'ann had to go through to create peace made her ready for the Equation?"

"That it did," Bridget said.

"But then how did she use her personal Equation to save the planet?" Lily asked.

"All Martians are psychic and share a mental link. J'ann built a psionic amplifier and used it to transmit what she'd learned to the entire planet. The Martians had always had a form of unity due to their psychic bond, though it had been rather strained by the many disasters Mars had suffered in those days to the point where it was on the verge of breaking completely, so the single Equation she learned could be comprehended and internalized more easily than, say, the Pokemon of Earth could, since your brains work differently," Ciela explained.

Bridget nodded. "Which is why the Martians—or us, for that matter, we've got our own Equation on the Moon—can't just broadcast the Life Equation all over Earth and expect it to create world peace. It doesn't work like that. Your planet's different from ours. Your people are different than ours. It might create peace, but only for a few minutes. After all, the base Equation from Ash's book purified Dawn of her Shadow, but she certainly doesn't seem very enlightened, does she?"

"…I rather resent that remark," Dawn said crossly.

"It's true, though, you're hardly enlightened," Leo agreed. Dawn snarled at him.

"And I saw it, but it didn't snap me out of my…funk. Not for long, anyway," Tiny admitted.

"Which is why the Martians—or these two—can't just tell me their Life Equations and instantly cure me of my problems. The darkness inside of me is a little too ingrained for the base Equation to cure, or at least, cure completely, without any chance of relapse," Ash said. "If the Life Equation is to save me, it has to be discovered by myself."

"What are the chances of that?" Michael asked.

Ash sighed. "Not good. There are Aura Guardians far stronger and wiser than I who spent their entire lives searching for the Equation but never found it. Not even Aaron's figured out the Life Equation, either the base or his own. Don't worry, I should still be able to confront my darkness and become a Shining Pokemon even without the Life Equation…I think…"

"Yeah, don't hold your breath, Ash," Misty said.

"So…if the Martians have the Life Equation, why haven't they just used it to blast Oblivion's Shadow and the other Shadow Pokemon, if it has the power to purify Shadow?" Boa asked.

"The Martians all share the same Equation due to their psychic connection. As such, together they are strong…which is why Oblivion's Shadow released a plague to wipe out most of them, and keep them from being a threat to him," Ciela said sadly.

Bridget nodded. "By reducing their numbers, their strength was greatly weakened, and the Equation they share is no longer as strong, not as strong as the Anti-Life churning inside of the Shadow. It also doesn't help that he's put psionic inhibitors on the ones in his captivity to keep them from speaking to each other telepathically, leaving them completely alone in their own heads and unable to use more than small fragments of their Equation, the bastard."

"It's no fun being alone in your head," Briney said quietly. "I've never understood how non-Psychic types could stand not being able to hear what's going on around them."

"We have ears for that," Sasha pointed out.

Briney snorted. "There's only so much you can hear with those two things sticking out of the sides of your head, lass."

"So the Martians can't use the power of the Life Equation to save themselves. Figures," Tenjin said with a sigh.

"Well, come on, if they could have, wouldn't they have done it already?" Leo pointed out.

"If the Moon has its own Life Equation…could you use that to defeat the Nihilators?" Tiny asked.

"Absolutely not!" both Ash and Ciela said sharply, much to everyone's surprise.

Bridget nodded. "The Life Equation's not a weapon. It's a tool of healing, of peace. It can't be used for offensive purposes against anything except the Anti-Life Equation. Any attempt to weaponize it fails. It recognizes the intent of those who possess it, and if those who have it act in a way contrary to its meaning…it can revoke the privileges it's granted them."

Ciela nodded. "To try and use the Anti-Life Equation to fight the Nihilators could mean the Moon would lose its power for good."

"What? But that's ridiculous!" Barbedo protested. "Didn't that Jane Martian use it to stop wars and all that?"

"J'ann J'annz used the Life Equation with the intention of uniting her people and bringing peace. If we were to bring the Life Equation into this conflict, it would be because we wish to defeat the Nihilators, make them weaker, easier to vanquish," Ciela said. "The Life Equation would not allow that. As the name implies, it is a proponent of life, and cannot be used to cause death or help to facilitate it."

"That's annoying…" Boa grumbled.

"And utterly, utterly typical," Misty said.

"Can't we at least use it against Oblivion's Shadow, then? You said the Life Equation can be used as a weapon against Anti-Life, and he's full of it," Lily asked.

"I'm not sure if it'd work on him at this point," Ash said. "He's so full of hatred. He's internalized the Anti-Life Equation, had it in his system for over a thousand years. I think it'd take more than a Lunar armada blasting him with it to break its power at this point."

"But you think one Pokemon who's not even a fully trained Aura Guardian can do the job instead?" Tracey asked skeptically.

Ash shrugged. "I'm the Chosen One."

"That's not much of a reason," Tracey complained.

"No, but it's the best one I've got," Ash said.

"And a terrible reason at that. Yeah, you're gonna die horribly. I look forward to it," Misty said giddily.

"Look, I don't really give a damn about math. Never had a head for numbers meself. But the trail's leading to that big statue over there, and I think our guides are getting a little impatient. Should I go there or not?" Fat Pete spoke up.

"Hmm? Oh, right. Take us in, Mister Pete," Briney declared.

"Aye, Cap'n," Pete said, steering the ship towards the statue. They flew across the city, the great skyscrapers passing beneath or beside them. Eventually they left the great buildings behind them and entered the clear space in the center of the city surrounding the great statue of J'ann J'annz. The rows of Martians came to a stop in a spot several hundred meters from the side of the disk held in one of the statue's hands. As the Great Peeko reached the end of the path, the waters below rippled and a pair of gantries suddenly shot upwards, rising above the ship on either side.

"What the-" Caruso started, reaching for the gun controls.

"Hold your Ponyta, Mister Caruso. Those look like docking gantries to me," Briney said. "Leave them alone."

Spindly appendages extended from the sides of the gantries and clamped down on the hull of the Great Peeko, locking it in place. With a nod from Briney, Flint ordered the engine room to power down, though the ship's reactor could be restarted and brought back to full capacity at a moment's notice. A light started flashing on Leo's console. "We're being hailed. Voice and visual, this time," the Squirtle reported.

"Onscreen," Briney said.

The view of the Martian city outside was replaced by the face of an extremely beautiful Gardevoir with long black hair, blood-red eyes, and white Zubat wings growing from the side of her head. She grinned, her smile incredibly alluring in spite of or perhaps because of her rather shapely fangs. "I am Nosferatina, Queen of the Vampires and—for now-temporary leader of the Martian people. Welcome to Mars, Team Aurabolt and friends. We have been expecting you."

"Oh, come on! How is it that I'm undead and look horrible, but she's undead and looks so gorgeous even I'm starting to fantasize about her and I'm straight?!" Misty complained.

Tracey whistled. "Wow! She's hotter than I remember!"

"Well, duh, she's a vampire queen," Leo said. "Uh, not as hot as you, of course, Lily," the Squirtle quickly said when his wife glared at him.

"'You remember?' You know her?" Michael asked.

Tracey nodded. "Yeah, Professor Oak and I first met her back when she was just a Gardevoir, before this whole thing started."

"And we sent her off to Turtle Town with the Map of the Star Badges…" Oak said glumly. "Little did we know we'd be sending her right into the clutches of the Nihilators…I hope she's not angry at us about that…"

"She certainly looks a lot better than that Jurgen fellow we fought outside Twilight's Edge," Sasha commented.

"And I bet she doesn't have ugly zombie minions, too! I hope…" Tiny said. He squinted. "She'd better not have nipple rings…"

"…Nipple rings?!" said the confused Michael.

"Yeah, those were gross," Misty agreed.

"Cor! Ain't she a beaut…" Fat Pete said, gobsmacked.

"Why do those stupid Gardevoirs always have to have the good looks that brings all the boys…and girls…running?" Molly fumed enviously.

"I know, right?" Misty grumbled.

Ash smiled and rose to his feet, happy to at last see his old friend. Too bad Misty couldn't be there as well. "Gardevoir…or Nosferatina, as you're calling yourself now…it's been a long, long time."

"Yeah. Almost feels like five years…and I'm not sure why that specific date comes to mind…" said the perplexed Tenjin.

Nosferatina laughed, her lovely tones raising everyone's spirits. "It certainly has been a while, hasn't it Ash, Pikachu? And it looks as if I'm not the only one who's changed since the last time we met..."

"You aren't the only one to name yourself, too. I go by the appellation of Tenjin, now," Tenjin said proudly.

"A good name for you," Nosferatina said approvingly. "And I hope you find my new name fitting, as well?"

"It sounds like the name a Queen of the Vampires would have, yeah," Ash said.

"If she'd asked me, I would have suggested something like Draculina. Or Camilla. Or Necrolai. Or Vancuria. Or any of the other tons of vampire Queen names I know," Leo commented. "Nosferatina's nice too, I suppose."

"I'm glad you think so…Leo, right?" Nosferatina asked. "Ash and Tenjin have always surrounded themselves with interesting friends, but I think this current incarnation of Team Aurabolt may be the most fascinating yet. I would love to meet you all and get to know you better…" Her eyes widened. "And is that Professor Oak and Tracey? What are you doing here?"

Oak laughed nervously. "Well, you know me, Gard—er, Nosferatina. It takes a lot to dissuade me from adventure. Why, if I hadn't felt I'd be of better use back in Treasure Town, I'd probably have accompanied Ash and his friends on their journey long before now."

"You know, considering how badass Oak is—I mean, the guy took down Tarantulas!—maybe we should have asked him to join up sooner," Leo commented.

"No," Briney said firmly. "There's only room on this team for one old badass, and that's me."

"I'm still older than you, and the Professor is right over there," Lily said in annoyance.

"As I've said before, I'm older at heart, and even if he's right there, he's not part of the team," Briney said stubbornly. "He's not wearing a badge, is he?"

"That can easily be changed," Tenjin said coolly.

Briney glared at the samurai. "Don't even joke about it, bucko."

"You're looking good, Nosferatina. Real good. Not like someone who was captured by the Nihilators and tortured for Arceus knows how many weeks and oh Mew I'm digging myself deeper and should just shut up now," Tracey said desperately.

"Yes, you probably should," Oak said with a frown.

Nosferatina sighed. "It wasn't pleasant, I'll be the first to admit that, but…it could have been worse. A lot worse."

"I'm sorry it happened," Oak said. "We should never have sent you two off on your own."

"It's all right," Nosferatina said. "I don't blame you for what happened. You couldn't have known the Nihilators would capture us. And…while I can't say I'm pleased things happened like this…it's put us in a better position to defeat the Nihilators, so maybe, in a roundabout way, it's all for the best. I'm sure Misty would feel the same way."

"No, I very much wouldn't," Misty said bluntly.

"Thank you for saying that," Oak said, mollified.

"Yeah, now it makes me feel less bad for being almost completely useless," Tracey said.

"Anyway…I am happy to see some familiar faces, though I'm a bit disappointed there aren't more from Pokémon Square among you…" Nosferatina said.

"They'd have liked to come, but unfortunately they need everyone they can spare to protect the town right now," Ash said apologetically. "Everyone sends their regards, though."

"I'm glad to hear that. So…who's the rest of your team?" Nosferatina asked. "I've heard some of their names and seen some of their faces from my friends, but this is the first time I've had a chance to speak to you all. Well, except maybe Sasha, though my attempts to communicate telepathically with you never quite bore fruit, did they?"

"No, they didn't," Sasha admitted. "Still, things worked out to bring us here anyway, so in the long run I suppose it didn't matter so much."

Nosferatina nodded. "I suppose so. You're from Kanjohenn as well, right? A reserve member of Team Aurabolt? I don't believe we ever got a chance to meet each other before now."

"I almost never came to town, so if Ash or Tenjin needed me, they generally contacted me in the wild," Sasha explained. "I only sought them out in Sinorre because my master, Darkrai, commanded me to."

"Darkrai is responsible for a great many of the things that have happened to me since my captivity…I suppose we are a bit alike in that respect. How did you become his High Priestess?" Nosferatina asked.

"That is a story for another day, I believe," the Absol said.

"I'm Leo deKappa, badass Masked Rider and legendary gamer! I'm the smart guy. They wouldn't last a day without me. Pleased to meet you, milady," Leo bragged.

"It's a shame I never made it to Turtle Town, or else this probably would not be the first time we met each other," Nosferatina commented.

"Yeah…things would've definitely been different," Leo agreed.

"I am Lily Yukihimi, Leo's wife," Lily introduced herself.

Nosferatina frowned. "You are Bellum's daughter."

Lily winced. "…Yes."

"She did some rather unpleasant things to me, you know. And to many of my friends and fellow prisoners," Nosferatina said.

Lily fidgeted. "I-I-"

"However, you are not to blame for your mother's sins. I am glad that we are on the same side, and that you were able to escape your mother's control," Nosferatina said, much to Lily's relief.

"As am I," the Mismagius said, smiling at Leo.

"I'm Tiny! Daddy hatched me in Battlus, and I can use Aura!" Tiny boasted.

Nosferatina raised an eyebrow. "Another adopted child, Ash?"

Ash shrugged sheepishly. "What can I say? The kids just seem to keep finding me."

"Yeah, since you're pretty much incapable of having any of your own," Misty sneered.

"Our family might as well set up an orphanage given how many new kids we keep getting…" Tenjin said wryly.

"Well, you're just as adorable as the rest. I'm happy to meet you, Tiny," Nosferatina said.

Tiny pouted. "Just as adorable?"

"I'm, uh, Michael Treesentinel, formerly from the Tree of Beginnings, now leader of a village in Treeshroud Forest," Michael said.

"I heard about what happened to your home, Michael. What Tarantulas did to it was unforgivable. I'm glad that wretched spider has been dealt with, and that you could find a new home," Nosferatina said sympathetically.

"As am I, miss. As am I," Michael said.

"Your people aren't the only ones seeking a home. I'm going to need a place to put my vampires once we're all free, in case the Martians don't want to put us up…ah, well, that's for another day, I suppose," Nosferatina said.

"…Think we should be worried about that?" Tenjin wondered. Ash shrugged.

"I'm Captain Thaddeus Irving Smithy Briney, master of this fine piece of engineering you see before you."

"I have heard of your exploits, Captain…the Nihilators speak of you in whispers," Nosferatina said, impressed.

"Heh. As well they should," Briney said.

"I am Dawn Hikari, soon to be married to Tenjin," Dawn said, wrapping an arm around Tenjin.

"Congratulations! I was wondering when you'd find a girlfriend," Nosferatina joked, causing Tenjin to blush and his friends to laugh at him. "And…oh! Dawn Hikari…you were held prisoner by the Nihilators as well for a while, weren't you?"

"…Yes. I was," Dawn said stiffly.

"I'm sorry my friends or I couldn't do anything to help you. Until recently, we've had great difficulty getting anyone into Tarantulas's lab," Nosferatina apologized.

"…It's all right," Dawn said. "I got out eventually, anyway." She smiled and pecked Tenjin on the cheek. "And was able to find a new family, new friends…and a new love." Tenjin flushed, and his friends laughed at him again.

"And I am Princess Boa, of the land of Fichina," Boa said. "I am the newest member of the team, so I doubt you will have heard much about me."

"I have not," Nosferatina admitted. "But if you are part of Team Aurabolt, Ash and Tenjin must believe you truly belong, and so I am happy to call you friend, for any friend of theirs is a friend of mine."

Boa smiled and curtsied. "I am gratified to hear that."

"I am Ciela, and this is my sister Bridget," Ciela said.

"We serve Darkrai and Cresselia, and convey their best wishes to you and all of Mars, and promise our support in the upcoming battle," Bridget said.

"The Lunar Armada is ready and waiting to help out," Ciela said.

"We are happy to have you with us," Nosferatina said. "And your Armada will be much appreciated. I hope that once this is over, I may come visit your world. I have heard it's very beautiful."

"Oh, it is. You'd like it there," Bridget promised.

Nosferatina nodded. "Then I will add visiting the Moon to my long list of things to do once the Nihilators are defeated."

"And I'm-" Barbedo started, eager to introduce himself to the very pretty lady.

"While all this catching up has been nice, we aren't here for a meet and greet," Briney interrupted gruffly, much to Barbedo's—and pretty much everyone else's-dismay. "We have business to discuss. Namely, how to take down the Nihilator menace once and for all."

Nosferatina nodded. "Indeed we do. I would like to invite you inside so that we might discuss-"

"MISTRESS!" Dean and Bob shouted as they abruptly barged into the room, both of them wearing pajamas with Zubats printed on them, Dean carrying an adorable Swalot plushy wearing a cape.

"Ah, I was wondering when they'd show up," Boa said with a smile.

"Ugh, they're such brown-nosers," Misty groaned.

"Dean. Bob. I sensed your arrival the instant your ship appeared in the canyon," Nosferatina said, giving the lesser vampires a warm smile that made several of the bridge crew, male and female, weak in the knees. "Welcome back. The coven has missed you greatly."

"And we have missed the coven!" Dean said.

"We awoke the instant we sensed the presence of your and your brethren in our minds. We have been apart from our own kind for so long, we'd almost forgotten what it was like to have the voices of so many friends and family inside our heads!" Bob said.

"It does my heart proud to see the two of you, whole and hale and hearty, no longer starved for blood or suffering Nihilator experiments," Nosferatina said, her smile getting even wider. "You have done us all a great service. Were it not for your actions, we would not have made it to this point, to the imminent destruction of our hated foes the Nihilators once and for all. All of Mars owes you a debt that will never be repaid, and you shall go down in the history of our people as two of our greatest heroes. At the first opportunity, I promise to promote both of you to nobility. You have earned it for your great deeds."

"Thank you, Mistress!" Dean said breathlessly.

Bob grimaced. "We are honored by your kindness, Mistress…but…there is one other who should be with us, one who should also be honored…"

Nosferatina's smile shrank somewhat, but did not fade entirely. "Yes, Count Vladimir. My heart wept when I heard of his death at the claws of the wretched birds. I swear to you, he shall not be forgotten either…especially since he might not be gone forever."

The vampires' heads shot up. "Wh-what do you mean?!" Dean asked.

"The Count is dead…he gave me the last of his blood himself, so that his memories and experiences could live on inside me!" Bob protested.

"Yeah, we made a big monument and everything," Leo agreed.

"It was really sad," Tiny said sadly.

"You can't actually bring him back…can you?" Ash asked in astonishment.

"I am the Queen of the Vampires. I have many talents," Nosferatina said smugly. "So long as I have some of Vladimir's blood, I believe I may be able to reconstitute him. And since that blood is inside of Bob…"

"Then…then you can bring him back to us!" Bob cried joyfully, beginning to weep.

"Can you really do that, Mistress? There's…there's so much I left unsaid…" Dean said, trying not to tear up.

"I have every reason to believe I can. I've been doing a little…experimenting with necromancy when I'm not plotting to destroy the Nihilators," Nosferatina said with a smirk.

"Really? Cool!" Leo said.

"Then we might get Vlad back? Yay!" Tiny cheered.

Sasha frowned. "If only all the dead could so easily be restored…"

"Tell me about it," Misty said.

"You're still alive," Ash pointed out.

"I certainly don't FEEL alive," Misty said.

"Having one dead friend brought back to us is better than none at all," Dawn pointed out.

"Yeah…too bad it's not…other friends…" Briney muttered to himself, thinking of Peeko.

"Or loved ones…" Michael agreed, thinking of his grandmother and the other Caretakers who had perished.

"Of course, the restoration of Vladimir is not the only matter we need to discuss. We both know why you're here: to help us defeat Oblivion's Shadow and the Nihilators once and for all and reclaim Mars for the Martian people," Nosferatina said.

Ash nodded. "We've come a long way…it's time to stop the Shadow for good."

"On that point, I actually agree with you. Don't get used to it," said Misty.

The vampire queen smiled cryptically. "I'm coming out to meet you now. We can discuss strategy inside the Citadel of Life—you know, the big statue in front of you. Oh…and I think I have a few friends, some old and some new, here who'd be interested in meeting you. We have a lot to talk about. See you soon."

She signed off, the screen switching back to the view of the giant statue. A massive door slid open on the side of the disk held in one of its hands and a long walkway started extending out towards the Great Peeko. "Old and new friends?" Tenjin said with a frown. "What do you suppose she meant by that?"

"We're about to find out," Ash said, standing up. "Let's go down and meet her."

Briney nodded and pushed a button on his armrest. "This is Captain Briney speaking. All military leaders and deities are to gather in cargo bay C for disembarking and meeting with our Martian allies to finalize our plans for the joint assault against the Nihilators. That is all."

"We're going outside…to another planet…to Mars…this is so awesome!" Leo squealed.

"I don't suppose I could come too?" Tracey asked hopefully. "You're going to need someone to document this historic meeting, after all."

"That's what I'm for," Frank said.

"Oh," the Smeargle said dejectedly.

"Don't worry, Tracey, I'm sure the Martians will have no problem letting us tour their city while everyone else is off to war," Oak said, eyes alit with glee at what knowledge he might gain from exploring this alien world.

"Yeah…that's gonna be pretty cool," Tracey admitted. "Though I kind of want to see the big battle, too."

"The two of you are civilians. You're lucky you were even allowed on this voyage in the first place," Boa said. "You have no place on the frontlines, in the sort of danger we're going to be facing. You'll be safer staying here in the city."

"Frank's a civilian, but he's still going," Tracey complained.

"I'm a reporter. It's my job," the Luxio said. "Besides, I've covered wars before. I've got experience."

"Surviving in the Treasure Town underground doesn't count as experience?" Tracey grumbled.

"Not like this, kid. Not like this," Frank said.

Briney rose from his seat. "Mister Barbedo, you have the bridge. You're in command until we return."

"Aye, Cap'n!" Barbedo said, saluting and quickly taking his place in Briney's chair.

"Cap'n, if they try to kill you, do I have permission to destroy the entire city?" Caruso asked hopefully.

Briney sighed. "Sure, why not." The undead Aggron squealed in delight to hear this.

"All right, everyone, let's go," Ash said, nodding to his team. "It's time to meet some Martians."

"And the Mistress!" Dean said eagerly.

"And Nosferatina," Ash agreed.

Team Aurabolt, Frank, Tracey, Professor Oak, the vampires, and the Clefairies left the room. "Ye know, Acting Cap'n," Poofy Pants Wally said. "Ye're in command of the ship now…and Caruso's got a rather itchy trigger finger…it would be such a shame if one of our forward cannons went off by accident while the Cap'n and his friends were outside…"

"Mister Wally, there will be no talk of mutiny on this ship, accidental or otherwise," Barbedo said sternly. "I didn't tolerate it when I was Cap'n, and I won't tolerate it even though I'm not Cap'n anymore. I have never had the stomach for treason, and earned my title as Cap'n and Pirate King rather than taking the easy way out and assassinating whoever had the title ahead of me. If I am to be Cap'n again, it will only be if the current Cap'n dies of causes other than being stabbed in the back."

"Aye, Cap'n," Wally said, chastened.

"And besides, the iron-skinned bastard probably wouldn't feel it anyway," Barbedo grunted. The other pirates nodded in grudging agreement.

"…Whose bright idea was it to give command of a ship this powerful to a bunch of pirates?!" Flint murmured in disbelief.

"I think they'd technically be considered privateers now," Joy said.

"Same difference!" Flint hissed.

"Actually, no, privateers are private persons or ships authorized by letters of marque from governments to attack foreign shipping during wartime, whereas pirates-" Courtney started.

"Oh, shut up," Flint snarled.

A few minutes later…

Team Aurabolt, Professor Oak and Tracey, Frank East, the vampires, the Clefairies, the three beasts, Lugia, and the leaders of all the military delegations had assembled in one of the Great Peeko's massive cargo bays, preparing to depart the ship. The bay was mostly empty, since the Great Peeko's first voyage wasn't intended to be a long one and so little need was seen to stuff it with supplies aside from weapons and enough food to sustain everyone on board for a short time, so there was more than enough room for the party to gather comfortably as they waited for the bay doors to finish depressurizing and open up to let them venture out into this new world. Excitement was in the air, and quite a few Pokémon were talking eagerly about how cool it was going to be to set foot on a whole new planet…while others were discussing the battle to come.

"Do you think they're going to be angry at us?" Suicune asked nervously, eyes on the huge metal bay doors in front of them.

"Why would they be?" Lugia asked.

"We may have blown up a few of their cities whenever Oblivion's Shadow let us out to run around and get some exercise…I'm pretty sure there wasn't anyone in them at the time, though…" Raikou said uneasily.

"We, uh, also might have eaten one or two of the Martians at base…" Entei said unhappily.

Lugia sighed. "If they are angry at you, they'll probably be angry at me, too. It would not surprise me if I were tested on some Martian cities as well. If it comes up, apologize profusely, reiterate that you were being mind-controlled, and assure them that you're very sorry."

"Yeah…I think we can do that," Entei said.

"I wish we didn't have to, though…" Raikou said solemnly. The others nodded in agreement.

"Hard to believe we're really here, huh Lance?" Steven Stone commented to the Dragonite. Although they were from different countries, the Empire and Confederation had always been on fairly good terms, and they'd known each other for most of their lives. "Another world…it's the sort of thing you only read about in science fiction books!"

"It looks like we're living one, old friend," Lance said with a smile. "Let's just hope it's one that has a happy ending."

"I was relieved to see there's some water on this planet…" Wallace commented to Cynthia. "I'd always heard that Mars was a barren, dry world, with nary a drop to be found."

"I think most of the water on this planet nowadays can only be found deep underground…and this is a pretty deep canyon, which explains the water we've seen," Cynthia said. "Nothing like the oceans you're from, friend. I must say, I'm a little surprised you've come so far from the seas you call home."

"As am I," Wallace admitted. "To be perfectly honest, I didn't want to come on this mission…but my father commanded me to go, and so I am here…on this dry, dusty world."

Alder nodded in sympathy. "I know what you mean. I don't really want to be here, either…I've earned my retirement. I've done my duty to my country. Still, the Nihilators need to be stopped…so when the call came, I didn't hesitate to answer it." He smirked slightly. "Besides, going into space, fighting on another planet…that'll be a fun story to tell my grandson, Benga."

"I volunteered for this mission when the leaders of my Order asked for warriors willing to go and fight," Cynthia confessed a little self-consciously. "I believed that it was my duty to Arceus to liberate both our worlds from the menace of the Nihilators. It never occurred to me that not everyone here might have had a choice in the matter."

"There are few soldiers who truly want to go to war," Alder said sagely.

"Even so, we recognize the importance of this effort, and while we would have been happier to stay home, we are proud to be able to help in whatever way we can," Wallace agreed.

Cynthia nodded. "Then I will pray that all of us will get home in one piece."

"Take it from an old veteran: that's not going to happen," Alder said grimly. When he saw the hurt look on Cynthia's face, he amended his statement. "But the prayer will be appreciated all the same."

"I wish you hadn't come here, Lucy," Looker said with a frown to the Aipom standing next to him.

"I'm a full-grown woman, dad, and the top agent in the Secret Operations League. I don't have to do what you say anymore," Lucy said with a huff, folding her arms and looking away.

The Croagunk sighed. "I know that, dear, and I'm proud of you for all your accomplishments. But this is going to be a lot more dangerous than fighting the Phobos Battalion ever was. The Nihilators are dangerous Pokémon. You're my only daughter, Lucy. I don't want to see you get hurt."

The Aipom's features softened. "I know, Dad. But I couldn't turn down this assignment anymore than you could. We're both the best in our respective agencies. We're not the kind of people who'd ever refuse a chance to collar some bad guys."

"Heh. I taught you too well," Looker said ruefully.

"And hey…at least we're working together. If we keep an eye on each other's backs, we should be able to make it out okay, right?" Lucy asked optimistically.

Looker smiled. "I hope so, Lucy. I really do."

"This is gonna be so cool…" Bruno said, cracking his knuckles. "The last big fight I had against the Nihilators, I killed a frost giant. I wonder what I'm gonna kill this time. I've heard they've got tons of those giant spider bots lying around. That should prove a worthy opponent…"

"You really think you can defeat one of those Arachnoblasts all by yourself?" Dark Shogun asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow.

"I've seen this guy in action. Wouldn't surprise me," said George, who'd been hired to come on the mission much like Bruno, since she also had some experience fighting the Nihilators.

Bruno nodded. "They don't call me the 'Giant Killer' for nothing!"

"Even though you've only actually killed just the one giant," George pointed out.

"I intend to add more to that count before we're through here," Bruno said smugly.

"We're on a whole new world…a new planet…talk about going to the new frontier," Nolan chittered, clicking his giant Pinsir horns together.

"Technically, we aren't breaking ground on new territory," Greta, a Medicham, pointed out.

Tucker, a Swampert, nodded. "Yes, the Nihilators got here way before us."

"And before us, the Martians," Lucy, a Seviper, added.

"This land has suffered much…soon we shall liberate it and return it to those who call it home," Spenser, a Claydol, said, folding his arms.

"I hope they at least let us see some of their cities and ruins before we leave, though…" Brandon, a Solrock, commented. "It'd be a shame for us to have come all this way but not get a chance to see the sights."

Annabel, an Espeon, twitched her two tails. "Brandon, these people have suffered enough from otherworlders. They don't need anyone else poking around their homes and reminding them of what they've lost."

"I'll be respectful…" Brandon muttered. "Especially with my old teacher, Professor Oak, watching. I have to say, I'm impressed that he's still got it at this age. The mon is truly a legend in his field."

Professor Oak sneezed. "Hmm. Someone must have been talking about me…wonder if it was Brandon. It's good to see him again. He's gone pretty up in the world since becoming a Frontier Brain…there are quite a few exploits to his name. I'm proud of him."

"I'm somewhat surprised to see you here, Muramasa, rather than your master," Glacia commented to the cursed Honedge. "He is rarely one to leave what he can do himself to his subordinates."

"My master did not think it a good idea to leave Necrontyr at this time," Muramasa intoned, his voice as frigid as death itself. "The world is in a very delicate state at the moment, with so many armies about to go off-world."

"In other words, a prime opportunity to make an attempt to conquer the Earth himself?" Glacia asked distastefully.

"Or for others to try and destroy his domain," Muramasa said.

"Hmmph," Glacia said, somewhat disappointed that the blighted Lich Lord would exist for another day. "I'm somewhat surprised your master isn't working for the other side, to be honest."

"My master desires to extinguish all life on Earth and create a world of death…but the Nihilators are trying to make sure there won't be a world left once they're through," Muramasa said scornfully. "He has no interest in working for those whose only goal is oblivion."

"And the Lich Lord's plan to render all life extinct doesn't count as oblivion?" Glacia asked.

"My master is the greatest necromancer of all time. Death is only the beginning," Muramasa said proudly. "Wheras the Nihilators…all they seek is the end."

"The world will not be ending today," Glacia said. "Not on my watch."

"Nor on mine, Your Majesty. Nor on mine," Muramasa said.

"So you two are truly from the Moon, birthplace of all Fairykind?" Evangeline asked Bridget and Ciela, blue eyes glistening with awe.

"Yep. And it's a pretty sweet place, if I do say so myself," Bridget said, taking a drag on her cigarette.

Invidiana sighed longingly. "I have always wanted to go to the Moon. I still do not understand why so many of our kind emigrated to Earth millennia ago."

"Some of your ancestors left because they were entranced by the beauty of the blue planet hanging high above," Ciela said fondly.

"And others were kicked out for being evil bastards and slaughtering their own kind," Bridget said gruffly, causing the daughters of Neria to wince.

"Do you suppose that we could visit the Moon once this is all over?" Lune asked hopefully.

Ciela and Bridget exchanged glances. "We'd have to speak to the bosses about that," Bridget said. "Last I checked, your people weren't exactly welcome on the Moon. Not after the terms your ancestors left on so long ago. Many on the Moon still have bad memories about the Kinslayings." The four Fairy Princesses flinched at that.

"But for helping up to stop the Nihilator scourge…I am certain we can speak to our masters on your behalf about lifting the exile on your bloodline," Ciela said gently, seeing how crestfallen the Fairies from Earth were. "It was so very long ago, after all, and most of those who incited that awful rebellion are—for the most part—either long dead, or very sorry."

The sisters perked up immensely at this. "We…we would be very grateful if you could intercede on our behalf. We dearly wish to see the Moon…as does our mother, who was but a babe during the exodus."

"One should not be held accountable for the sins of their ancestors. We will speak to our lieges and see what they think of the matter," Ciela said.

"If you could do that, we would be forever in your debt," Evangeline said.

"Careful about saying things like that," Bridget warned the Sylveon. "We're magical creatures, and the things we say can have lasting effects. After all…forever is a long, long, long time for those like us."

"Omigosh omigosh omigosh I can't believe this is really happening!" Grandmaster Po squealed, sounding and acting a lot younger than his age and appearance would imply. "We're going to meet some aliens on an alien planet! And fight bad guys on an alien planet! This is so AWESOMESAUCE!"

"I know, right?!" Leo said giddily. "There's times I can't believe it's really happening!"

"It's practically a dream come true! In fact…what if it is a dream?" wondered the horrified Tracey.

"If so, nobody pinch me, I don't want to wake up!" Po shouted. One of his companions, a Persian named Tigress and leader of the Furious Five, Choina's greatest warriors—next to Po himself—pinched him. "Ow! I said not to pinch me!"

"Darn," Tigress sighed wearily. "This isn't a dream."

"There goes that hope," an Infernape creatively named Monkey, also one of the Furious Five, said glumly.

"Guess we're going to have to go through with this after all…" an incredibly tiny Leavanny named Mantis said with a groan.

"Fight a massive army of evil on another planet?" a Seviper named Viper asked.

"No," Mantis said. "Deal with Po geeking out…with two other Pokémon who are apparently as nerdy as he is."

"That is terrifying," a Skarmory named Crane admitted with a shudder.

"Two of them was bad enough…but three? Seriously?! How is the universe not exploding already?!" Tenjin asked incredulously as he watched Leo, Tracey, and Po ramble about how awesome it was going to be to fight on Mars, who their favorite superheroes and action heroes were, and take out action figures to compare each other's collections.

"That is a mystery even Uxie may not know the answer to," Sasha said gravely.

"They won't be able to ramble for much longer, once we're in the thick of it," Boa said.

"If anyone can find a way to ramble in the middle of a fight, it's Leo," Lily said proudly.

"…I am not certain that is a good thing," Dawn said.

"So, Michael, are you up for this? This is a bit out of your depth…" Tiny said.

"I'm already not just in over my head, but drowning at the bottom of the ocean. I'll find a way to manage," Michael said. "That, or go insane."

"In this crew, it's honestly hard to tell one from the other," Tenjin said wearily.

"It's more fun that way," Briney said cheerfully.

"That's debatable," Ash said distractedly.

"So, know what you're going to say to her?" Misty asked the Lucario.

"Nosferatina? 'It's great to see you again, it's been a while, you're looking wonderful, love the fangs?'" Ash said.

"The Mistress is wonderful, isn't she?" Dean said dreamily.

"The most beautiful Pokémon in existence, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a vampire and obligated to think that way of her," Bob agreed.

"Yeah, I can see where you're coming from…uh, but don't tell Nefertari I said that…" Tiny said quickly.

"I meant about her letting me get dispersed across the Omniverse. Or maybe her macking on your brother. Who we're about to fight, may I remind you?" Misty said.

"She didn't let you get dispersed. I don't blame her for what happened to you. After all, it was your own decision to go to Treasure Town with her," Ash said. "And as for her being in love with Mewtwo…okay, I admit, that's kind of weird, but hey, if it makes both of them happy."

"So you don't think she's going to be bothered at all that you're going to kill her boyfriend?" Misty asked.

"I'm not going to kill Mewtwo. I'm going to save him and kill Oblivion's Shadow. There's a difference," Ash said.

"Easier said than done, Ash. What if you can't purify him? What if you have no choice but to kill him? What will you do then?" Misty pressed.

"I'm going to purify him," Ash said.

"And what if you can't?" Misty repeated.

Ash clenched his fist. "Then…then I'll…I'll do what's necessary. Without becoming a Void Pokémon."

"Uh-huh," Misty said skeptically. "Somehow I find that a little hard to believe, given your track record, Ash."

"You cannot resist the darkness forever."

"Will you cut that out?!" Misty snapped.

"Will who cut what out? I didn't say anything," Ash said.

"Nothing," Misty said quickly. "Nothing at all."

Ash narrowed his eyes at her. "Funny, that sounds like the sort of thing I might have said when I first started hearing you. What, are you hearing voices now?"

Misty bit her lip. "…Maybe."

Ash blinked in surprise. "Wait, really? That can happen? A voice in my head can hear voices of her own?"

"Apparently," Misty admitted. "It creeps me out, too."

Ash frowned. "You're pretty creepy yourself. Who are you hearing, that would give you the heebie-jeebies?"

"Well…" Misty started.

"Hey Ash, you're going to have to finish this conversation with your imaginary girlfriend some other time, I think we're about to disembark," Victini said, looking at the light above the bay doors, which had turned from red to green.

"She's not my imaginary girlfriend, she's a grotesque manifestation of my guilt that just happens to look like my girlfriend back when she was human. As a zombie," Ash said.

"…Right. Anyway," Victini said, thinking that entire textbooks could be written about whatever was wrong with Ash's head. "I think we're about to leave."

There was a loud buzz, and the bay doors started to slide apart with surprising grace and silence. The whole room went quiet with anticipation, except for Leo, Tracey, and Po giddily chanting, "Here we go here we go here we go here we go here we go..."

As the doors opened, light poured in from outside. It was, as was to be expected from Mars, rather reddish in hue, and cast a rusty hue on everything it touched, causing Briney and the other Steel-types present to reflexively look themselves over for signs of cancerrust. The temperature dropped a few degrees as cool winds blew in from outside, but it wasn't enough to give anyone goosebumps. There was a smell of dust in the air, and water, and stone, and a sense of unbearable age weighing down on them. Eyes wide with wonder, they slowly shuffled down the wide loading ramp extending from the base of the door, staring in awe and amazement at the gargantuan statue looming over them, the massive cityscape spread out on either side, and the great canyon walls rising up and up to the saucer-filled sky far above. Mars looked even more magnificent and beautiful seen in person, rather than through viewports or viewscreens.

The long, wide stone walkway extending from the statue's disk terminated at the foot of the ramp. Everyone stared at it for a moment, wondering who would be first to take this historic first step onto another planet, wondering who would dare.

To almost nobody's surprise, Leo decided to take the initiative. "This is one small step for mon," the Squirtle said, reaching into his shell and pulling out a flag bearing the emblem of Team Aurabolt on it. "And one giant leap for Pokémonkind!" He dramatically stepped forward, one foot on the ramp and one on the walkway, and drove the base of the flagpole into the stone. He stood back and saluted it. Much to everyone's surprise, most of them found themselves saluting it too, as the flag rippled and waved in the singing winds blowing through the canyon. Frank snapped a picture, rightly thinking this was a momentous occasion.

"Darn, he beat me to it!" Po grumbled.

"Why didn't I think of that?" Tracey muttered.

"What was that about?" Tenjin asked as everyone stepped onto the walkway, the tension of the moment broken.

"It's something I've always wanted to do. It just seemed appropriate," Leo said. "I heard it's what the first person to land on the Moon said."

"We were there first, you know," Bridget pointed out.

Ciela nodded. "And those astronauts made quite a mess before they left."

"You are aware that we aren't actually the first people from Earth to set foot here, right?" Boa pointed out. "The Nihilators got here long before us."

"Yeah, but we're the first good guys to land on Mars. It's good enough for me," Leo said.

"Is there a reason you used your team's flag instead of the flag of a specific country?" Boa asked, privately thinking the Fichinan colors would look much better, flying against the Martian backdrop.

"Because if I chose one country, I'm pretty sure the others would be pissed they didn't get to put the first mark on Mars instead," Leo said.

"Oh. Good point," the Serperior admitted.

Standing several meters away was a large cluster of Martians. Some of them showed the telltale signs of vampirism; fangs, paler skin, wing-like growths, vaguely monstrous features, and so on. As the delegation from Earth approached, the Martians raised their hands, the lights on their arms flickering in a complex pattern. "Eeeeee! Real Martians!" Leo, Tracey, and Po all squealed at once as Frank took a picture.

"Why are there three of them? Why? WHY?!" Tigress moaned. "Did I do something in a past life to be punished for this?!"

"There's times I wonder the same thing," Tenjin said sympathetically, commiserating with the Persian.

"So that's what aliens look like, huh?" Tiny murmured.

"We're aliens too, technically," Ciela said.

"Though to us, you might as well be aliens," Bridget added.

"Oh, sorry," Tiny said.

"Huh…it's been a long time since I last saw Elgyem or Beheeyem," Ash commented.

"You've seen…of course you have," Michael said with a sigh. "Let me guess, you've been to Mars, too?"

"Nah, they visited Earth," Ash said. He frowned in thought. "Wonder if any of the ones I met back then are still alive…Martians live a really long time, right?"

"They do, unless they were killed by Oblivion's Shadow," Lily said.

Ash clenched his fist. "Right. That's true…"

"I'm guessing that's a 'Welcome travelers' and not a 'Take one step further and we'll vaporize you?'" Boa half-joked, referring to the lights on the Martians' arms.

"…I think so…" Briney said, furrowing his metal brow.

"You think? You can't read their minds and see?" Tenjin asked in surprise.

Briney shook his head slowly. "I can't read the minds of the vampire ones, but I can see into the minds of the others…sort of…it's…weird. I can't really understand what they're thinking. It's…it's like when you turn on the telly, and you're watching something, but it's in another language and you have absolutely no idea what they're talking about and why one of the characters is a talking Oran Berry in a dress and sombrero. You know what I mean?"

"The Martian race evolved on a different planet from Earth. As such, it is not that surprising that their brain chemistry and even their thought processes are different from what you are used to," Ciela said.

"I can read your minds just fine," Briney said.

"We're closer to Earth, both in terms of distance and biology," Bridget explained. "Plus, we have a big hand in your dreams, so know the workings of your minds inside and out. The Martians…well, to an extent, you're as strange to them as they are to you."

"A problem I hope to remedy once this is over, in hopes of bringing our planets into a closer union," Nosferatina spoke as she elegantly stepped forward, the Elgyem and Beheeyem parting before her like a wave to allow her passage, a pair of powerful-looking vampire Beheeyem hovering on either side of her. "It is my hope that this fight against the Nihilators will not be the last time the peoples of Earth, the Moon, and Mars may work together towards a common cause." She smiled at the travelers from beyond. "Greetings, brave heroes. It is good to see you all."

"And you too…Nosferatina," Ash said warmly. "You've changed a lot since the last time we saw each other…but even so, there's no way I could ever have trouble telling you apart from anyone else."

"The fact that she doesn't look much like your average Gardevoir now probably helps," Tenjin commented, eyes running over Nosferatina's form, and not in a way that might offend Dawn. He had a point. There was no mistaking Nosferatina for anything but a vampire queen now.

Her milky-white skin had the pallor of a corpse, but was oddly not that unattractive. (Then again, she could be covered in mud or worse and still pull it off, she was really pretty.) Her long silky black hair grew down to her waist, many of the strands dancing in the air even without the wind blowing at them. The black horn growing from her chest, between her ample cleavage, was now longer, hooked, and jagged, somewhat resembling the growth around Darkrai's neck. Petite fangs jutted down from the upper lip of her perfectly formed mouth. The whites of her eyes were black, with red irises, and what looked rather like a third eye peeked through the bangs on her forehead, with a pair of small red horns growing right above it. The spikes on the sides of her heads looked like a pair of white Zubat wings about as large as the genuine article. A blood-red mark resembling the one on the heads of the Elgyem and Beheeyem glowed just between her neck and her breasts. Her arms were covered in black segmented armor, ending in slender multi-jointed claws with glowing lights set in her palms. Her gown was blood-red, the hem trailing behind her as various runes and sigils and alien symbols flashed across its surface. The end of what looked like a slender black segmented tail poked out from the bottom of her gown, slithering behind her and leaving a trail in the dust on the walkway. A pair of great black and white Noivern wings sprouted from her back…and the weird thing was, they were upside-down, with their points facing upwards, making her look larger and even more imposing. She was also taller now, at least seven or eight feet in height, not counting the wings. Three shadows stretched out behind her, while everyone else just had one, and while one of them resembled her current form, the other two looked…different, one more angelic, and the other demonic. And all three of them moved independently of Nosferatina's own actions. While taken separately, many parts of her body were monstrous, put together they somehow combined to create a vision of extraordinary loveliness. There was also an aura of incredible power radiating from her, and Boa was suddenly put in mind of her mother-this Nosferatina was not as strong as Queen Ninianne, far from it-but she still had the presence of an immortal monarch, someone that the average Pokémon would instinctually feel like they should be bowing down to.

"…Damn. Why can't I look like that?!" Misty complained.

"You're still the most beautiful woman in the world for me," Ash said automatically.

Misty glared at him. "Seriously?" The Lucario winced.

"Hmm. Quite the impressive specimen," Oak commented.

"Totally," Frank agreed, taking picture after picture and hoping she was the kind of vampire who could show up on film.

"My…she would make a worthy bride for my master…" Muramasa purred, much to Glacia's disgust.

"Hubba hubba," Bruno said.

"Yeah," George said vaguely.

"Ooh! She's quite lovely, isn't she?" Wallace commented.

"Huh. She looks a lot better than the 'Hopping Ghost' undead things back home," Crane commented.

"Waaaay better…and less scary," Po said, trying not to drool.

Raikou whistled. "Wow. I can see why Oblivion's Shadow was so reluctant to kill her and kept her locked up in his lab where the rest of us couldn't get her."

"And here I thought he had no sex drive," Entei joked.

"Hmmph. She's not all that," Suicune grumbled enviously.

"Whoa…and here I thought her headshot looked nice. She's even hotter in person!" Tracey murmured to Leo.

"Yeah, really," Leo whispered. "Not as nice as Lily, of course."

"Or my girlfriend," Tracey agreed quickly.

"The one that doesn't exist?" Leo asked sardonically.

"She does too exist!" Tracey shouted.

"You didn't seem to have much of a problem dumping her to hang with Fantina's daughters," Oak pointed out.

"I…that's…she gave me permission…and asked me to take pictures…" Tracey said lamely.

Oak raised an eyebrow. "Did she now? I didn't realize it was that kind of a relationship."

"Neither did I…" Tracey muttered.

"Meh. Peeko's still prettier," Briney said stubbornly.

"…Incredible. She looks as if she would make a much better High Priestess than I…" Sasha murmured.

Maybe, but you're the one I picked, and it's staying that way. You're not going to get out of priestesshood so easily, Darkrai said.

"So that's what a vampire queen looks like…" Boa murmured. "I wonder whether I should be concerned that her kind is no longer extinct anymore, especially given what certain ancient texts say about the vampires…"

"I would if I were you," Raikou commented.

Victini nodded. "Yeah, I remember the ones we fought back in the Crisis Wars. They could be a pretty nasty bunch…and ridiculously hard to kill…the way some vampires are portrayed in the media these days disgusts me. Vampires do not sparkle! Still, this bunch seems trustworthy. For now."

"Oh my…she could almost pass for an Unseelie!" said the amazed Titania.

"Hopefully she isn't as nasty as one…" Invidiana murmured.

"…Ancestors, what have I gotten myself into?!" Michael wondered, eyes wide.


Dean and Bob rushed forwards to prostrate themselves at Nosferatina's feet, weeping pathetically. "Oh, Mistress, you don't know how much it warms our blackened hearts to see you in the flesh once more and hear your call in our souls!" Dean cried.

"At last, I may look upon you with my own eyes, and truly comprehend your wonder and majesty…once more, I thank Count Vladimir for granting me the gift of sapience, so that I might come here and be in your presence, not as a beast, but as a true vampire, Mistress!" Bob howled. He paused. "Although…you look different than I remember…"

"I've been drinking a lot of Martian blood. It's helped my power to evolve even further," the vampire queen explained. Smiling, Nosferatina crouched down and took both vampires' chins in her hands, lifting them up to look her in the eye. "Dean, Bob, the two of you have both exceeded my expectations. When you and Vladimir were sent to Earth, I had hoped that you would make the world aware of our plight, and incite action against the Nihilators. I had not anticipated that the world would reply in such volume, or that my dear friends Ash and Tenjin would become involved as well. You have both gone above and beyond your duty to our kind, and will become legends among future generations of vampires for ages to come once we have liberated our kindred and are free to establish a place of our own. You have both earned the reward I am about to give you…promotion into the upper echelon of our species." With that, she leaned forward and sunk her fangs into first Dean, and then Bob's neck.

"WHAT THE ABYSS?!" Lance cried.

"Ooh, that's gonna make some juicy nightmares!" Bridget said eagerly.

"Oh my," said a shocked Oak, eyes wide.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Boa cried in disbelief as Nosferatina rose back up, Dean and Bob collapsing to the ground before her, blood oozing from the rapidly-healing holes she'd left in their necks.

"We did not rescue them and bring them all this way just so you could kill them!" Dawn agreed.

"I thought you were supposed to be a good vampire, not a bad one!" Tiny agreed.

"Well, there are some who'd say all vampires are evil and need to be destroyed…after reading the Midnight books, I don't entirely disagree with them…" Briney grunted.

"Hey!...I like Midnight…" Lance said lamely. Everyone stared at him. "What? I can have guilty pleasures too, you know!"

"Yep, knew you couldn't trust a vampire!" Raikou snarled.

"Someone hold her down and pull off her sock, I have a mushroom!" Po declared, holding up a mushroom. Everyone stared at him. "What? Everyone knows to kill a vampire you have to pull off their sock, stick a mushroom in it, and throw it in a river!"

Tigress facepawed. "Po, she's not that kind of vampire."

"What? Really? Darn, and I left my stake at home…" Po complained. "And already ate the steak I brought."

"I have a stake," Leo said.

"Ooh, great!" Po said.

"But I don't think it'll work on her either. She's not that kind of vampire," Leo added.

"Oh. Figures," Po grumbled. "What can kill her, then?"

"Sunlight? I think…" Lily suggested.

"Which we conveniently have none of on hand thanks to those saucers overhead…" Victini growled, glancing upwards.

"Well, maybe I can do something, then-" Brandon offered.

"Could everyone stop leaping to conclusions, please?!" Ash shouted. "I highly doubt she would have killed them after everything they've gone through!"

"I most certainly did not!" Nosferatina replied, surprised and a little hurt. "I have not killed them. I have empowered them. Behold, the gift of my blood!"

They beheld, all right. They watched, eyes wide in amazement, as blood oozed from every pore and orifice on Dean and Bob's bodies, soaking their flesh and covering them in crimson. The blood thickened, covering them completely, and hardened, encasing them in red cocoons. Fissures started zigzagging across the hardened blood, black light emanating from the cracks. With the sound of breaking glass, the cocoons shattered in a burst of darkness and a howl of ecstasy, revealing that Dean and Bob had been reborn.

Dean was now a Quagsire, but a massive one, almost twenty feet tall with purple skin and beady red eyes. His big mouth was full of fangs. Red claws grew from the ends of his fingers and toes. There was a wavy blood-red pattern on his back and a ridge of spikes extending down to his wide, thick tail, which ended in a massive claw. A pair of Swoobat wings grew from his back as well.

Bob had become bigger as well, about as large as Dean, but even more solidly built, his silver fur now blood-red needles, his snout even longer and more monstrous, full of razor-sharp fangs, his eyes a solid glowing red. His bone spurs were now shaped like lightning bolts, all crackling with black electricity. Two pairs of Crobat wings grew from his sides, flapping in the wind.

"Magnificent," said the awestruck Muramasa.

"…Uh…wow," said a dumbstruck Tracey.

"Okay, that was pretty cool," Tenjin admitted.

"They're so big! Does being a vampire make you huge?!" Tiny asked.

"…Apparently so," said a dazed Ash, astonished by what Nosferatina had just done. He hadn't known she was capable of that sort of thing.

"…Hey…do you think-" Leo started.

"NO, LEO!" absolutely everyone screamed.

"Come on! This might be my only chance to get some hair and muscles!" Leo whined.

"NO, LEO!" absolutely everyone repeated.

"I'm sorry, dear, but even I agree that would be an absolutely horrible idea," Lily said.

"Oh, for the love of…you know that tons of Pokémon are gonna sign up for vampirism the instant they hear it'll give them immortality, good looks, and incredible power! Why can't I get some of that?!" Leo complained.

Wallace perked up at this. "Immortality and great beauty, huh?"

"Wallace, you're already incredibly beautiful," Alder said wearily. "Your species doesn't even get ugly in old age like most others do!"

"That's true," Wallace admitted. "But I can always be more beautiful." Alder sighed.

"You can't have it because you would abuse such power horribly," Lily said apologetically.

Leo raised a finger to protest…and sighed, giving in. "Yeah, fair enough."

"You know, Professor, you're getting pretty on in years…maybe you should-" Tracey suggested.

Oak snorted. "Tracey, please, after all the adventures I've been on, ancient ruins I've explored, and powerful magical artifacts I've dealt with, don't you think I'd have found a way to live forever already if I really wanted to?"

"Oh, right. Sorry, Professor…" Tracey said….and frowned. The Professor didn't actually said he hadn't found a way to live forever…and he was awfully fit and in great health for a Slowking of his age…

The two vampires looked over their stronger—and more attractive, somehow—forms in awe. "The power…the power…" Dean whispered in amazement.

"Oh…thank you, Mistress…thank you…" Bob growled in delight.

"You are both now among the uppermost caste of vampirekind, second only to me in power and privilege. Under me, you and your fellow nobles shall rule our people with honor and dignity…and remember, do not dare to abuse your power, for I shall strip it from you if I discover such misuse, and be warned, I will find out," Nosferatina warned them.

The two vampires bowed. "We understand, Mistress," Dean said.

"We have no intention of ever betraying your trust in us," Bob assured her.

"See that you do not," Nosferatina said gravely. "Now that you have been reborn, you require new names. Dean and Bob are no longer suitable for vampires of your station. I name thee…Olrox and Joachim. Rise, and take your place at my side."

"Yes, Mistress," the newly christened vampire lords said in unison as they arose and stood on either side of her, next to Roswell and Grey. Even though they were much taller physically than her, they still seemed to somehow be dwarfed by her presence.

"Ooh, those are good names. Not what I would have suggested, but they have a nice ring to them," Leo commented.

"Aren't they the names of Castlevania bosses?" Tracey wondered.

"Seems like as good a place to get inspiration as any," Leo said. "So long as she doesn't decide to become evil and we need to get the help of some guy with a whip to defeat her, and even then she'll keep coming back every hundred years on the clock, unless some idiot decides to revive her early." He frowned in thought. "Now, who do we know that uses a whip…"

"I can use Vine Whip," Boa pointed out.

"That might do the trick," Leo said.

"…Are we seriously discussing this?!" Michael wondered in disbelief. "After just seeing her do…that?"

"Yes," Leo and just about everyone else said.

Michael sighed. "I don't think I'll ever get used to this…"

"I apologize if that disturbed any of you, but I felt that after everything dear Dean and Bob have gone through, they deserved to be rewarded in a prompt manner…the fact that it also demonstrates my power and that I am not someone to be trifled with, intimidated, or walked over just because we've basically requested your help is just a side benefit," Nosferatina said with a smile to the Earth delegation. "After all, just a few days ago, I went toe-to-toe with Oblivion's Shadow, one of the most powerful beings to ever live, and survived. And I'm even stronger now than I was then, thanks to the blood generously donated by my Martian friends. Oh…and speaking of blood, and power…Joachim, when I gave you your gift, I took something from you as well…."

Extending a sharp talon, she sliced into the palm of one hand, and then flipped her hand over so it faced the ground. As blood started dripping from it, she held her other hand underneath it and started waving it about, her nails elegantly tracing a pattern in the air. As she did so, the blood dripping out increased its flow but started moving strangely. Instead of falling downwards, it started twisting and spiraling in the air, turning around and around itself and weaving together, beginning to coalesce in a large ovoid form. After a few moments, the blood now resembled a rather large Pokémon egg, and she took her bleeding hand away, the wound quickly healing over as the blood she'd used to form the egg solidified and hardened. "And so dear Vladimir is reborn…more or less," Nosferatina mused.

Joachim's eyes widened in awe. "The Count…he is in that egg?!"

"Incredible…I can sense him already…" Olrox whispered, beginning to cry. "I'd thought I'd never feel his presence again…damn…I'm actually happy to feel it again…"

"That's Vladimir?! Then as soon as he hatches, he'll be back? That's so cool!" Leo gushed.

"Heh. It'll be nice to fight alongside the fatso again…" Bruno commented.

"That's not a very nice thing to call Vlad," George chided him.

"When he was dead, it was bad to speak disrespectfully of him. But he's alive now…or undead…so it's fine, isn't it?" Bruno pointed out. The Mightyena sighed and rolled her eyes.

"That's really Vladimir?" Ash asked, amazed at what his old friend had just done.

Nosferatina nodded. "Yes…or it will be, once he hatches and regains his power. It will take time, and a great deal of blood, however, so I'm afraid he won't be able to join us for the battle."

"So long as he returns to us, I do not mind," Joachim said.

Olrox nodded in agreement. "One way or another…the Count shall return."

"Yep, just like any good vampire lord should," Leo said approvingly.

"Did…did she just do blood magic?!" Boa asked, looking horrified, reaching reflexively for her sword.

"It…would look that way, yes," said the alarmed Lily.

"Why, is that bad?" Tiny asked.

"Extremely! Blood magic is incredibly illegal in Fichina," Boa said.

"Naturally, Mother uses it, which should give you an idea of how dangerous it is," Lily added.

"Well, Bellum uses lots of types of magic, but most of it isn't illegal, is it?" Tiny asked.

"The way Mother uses it, it is," Lily said grimly.

"Blood magic is considered one of the forbidden schools of magic," Victini elaborated. "Pretty much everyone who's ever practiced it inevitably becomes evil. That, and it's gross as hell. I've seen a blood mage kill a guy by ripping all his blood out through his pores, then make a myrmidon from the blood and use it to attack people…not pretty."

"Hey, if she broke the law, does that mean we can arrest her, Dad?" Lucy asked.

"No dear, it's illegal in Fichina. We're on Mars," Looker reminded her. "Different laws."

"But we're already out of our jurisdiction already, technically," Lucy pointed out. "Doesn't that mean we can't arrest the Nihilators?"

"The Nihilators have committed crimes against Earth, and the citizens of Mars have requested our aid. Therefore, we have permission to pursue the Nihilators here and enact our own brand of justice on them," Looker explained.

"But not Nosferatina," Lucy said.

"I don't think so, no," Looker said. He smirked. "And in any event…were you really planning to arrest any Nihilators?"

"…Heh. Fair enough," Lucy admitted.

"I am a vampire," Nosferatina pointed out flatly as she handed Vladimir's egg to an Elgyem, who nodded at an unspoken command and floated off to take it to a nursery for proper incubation and blood infusion. "Blood magic comes naturally to me. I have no intention of using it for evil."

"That is what many a blood mage says from the start," Boa pointed out. "And many other villains, at that."

"A most worthy bride," Muramasa gloated.

Nosferatina considered this for a moment. "…You have a point," she admitted. "I do not wish to become evil, but as a vampire, I have certain…drives. I want to be a benevolent ruler, but I can understand that my appearance and some of my actions…I have changed since my transformation. I have done things my old self would have found reprehensible. But now I do them without a second thought. I am not the Pokemon I once was."

"No, you are," Ash insisted. "Even if you have a different look, even if you have a different name, you're still the Gardevoir I remember. No matter how much you've changed, you're still you…and I believe in you. You're not going to become evil."

"…Thank you, Ash. I appreciate that," Nosferatina said, flattered.

"Yeah, too bad none of that can be applied to you," Misty snarked. Ash ignored her.

"But I have taken up enough of your time with my own indulgences. I apologize," Nosferatina said. "Allow me to formally introduce myself: I am Nosferatina, Queen of the Vampires and spokesPokemon—and possibly more—for the Martian people. Welcome to the city of Barsoom, the last refuge of the Martian race."

"You have a very beautiful city," Lily said.

"Indeed, one of the most impressive I've ever seen!" Oak agreed.

"Yeah, it could give some of the places back home a run for their money," Leo agreed.

"Eh, the cities back home are nicer," Bridget said. "And not ghost towns."

"Bridget!" Ciela hissed.

"What's wrong with ghost towns? I liked Twilight's Edge," Tiny said.

"Not that kind of ghost town, Tiny," Ash said in bemusement.

"Twilight's Edge…pah. You know nothing of a true necropolis," Muramasa said scornfully.

"And this is not even the capital!...sadly, that was destroyed long ago," Nosferatina said sadly. "But with your help, and the help of our other allies, in time the Martians can rebuild, and begin again."

Ash frowned. "'Other' allies?"

"That's right, you mentioned you had some friends for us to meet…some old and some new…what was that about?" Tenjin asked.

Nosferatina glanced upwards. "They should be here right about…now."

Without warning, a DeSoto Adventurer fell from the sky and crashed down on the walkway, causing an extremely loud car alarm to blare across the canyon, causing everyone to wince as it bombarded their eardrums. "SAM, TURN IT OFF!" a female voice shouted from the car.

"OUTLAW, TURN IT OFF!" a male voice shouted.


There was a beeping noise, and the alarm died down. "Ah, much better," the first female voice said.

Tenjin's eyes widened in horror. He knew that car and those voices—well, two of them, anyway—and still saw them in his nightmares. "No," he breathed in horror. "Not them. Not here!"

"Hey, it's your boyfriend!" Bruno joked.

"He's not my boyfriend!" George hissed, hiding behind the Machamp's bulk. "Don't let him see me!"

"Why not?" Bruno asked.

"Because I want nothing to do with that whackjob!" the Mightyena snarled.

"Oh cool, it's Sam and Outlaw!" Leo said eagerly. "I almost forgot about those guys! What are they doing here?"

"And who's their new companion?" Sasha wondered as the two doors of the DeSoto swung open and a pair of individuals climbed out. One of them was familiar, a tall brown-furred bipedal canine with a blue and black striped tie, a gun holstered under his left arm, shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows, gray pants, a five-o-clock shadow, and a seemingly permanent scowl on his face. His companion, however…

She was a tall, very female creature wearing a suit with a skirt hem down to the middle of the knee, three-quarter sleeves on a notch-collar jacket, a sleeveless A-line dress, above-the-elbow gloves, low-heel pumps, and a pillbox hat. She had an hourglass figure, long red hair, and blue eyes set in a rather attractive face. A face that, for some reason, had most of the Earth delegation tensing up, an instinctive feeling of dread (and longing?) welling up inside of them.

"What kind of Pokemon is that?" Michael wondered. "I've never seen anything like it before…"

Oak gasped. "That's because she's not a Pokemon at all…she's-"

"A HUMAN!" Tracey, Leo, and Ash cried.

"A human?!" Just about everyone else yelled.

"Huh. This is the species that used to rule our world? Not impressed," Briney grunted.

"That's a human? That's what you used to look like, Daddy?!" Tiny asked.

Ash spluttered in shock. "Well, uh, I wouldn't say I looked like that, per se-"

"No, your chest was much flatter," Misty said with a smirk.

"So was yours," Ash snapped.

"…Ouch. That actually hurt," Misty said.

"Impossible…humans have been extinct for over a thousand years! How…" Lugia said in astonishment.

"She must have come from the same universe Sam and Max did. They still have humans there," Dawn said.

"…Ah, I see! Yes, that makes sense," Lugia realized.

"…Wait, another universe? They're from another universe?!" said the shocked Raikou.

"How did they get here?!" Suicune asked.

"Oh, they drove, no doubt," Lily said.

"…They drove. They…they DROVE," Suicune said blankly.

"Yes," Lily said.


"Don't," Tenjin said miserably. "Just…just don't."

"She looks different from the humans I remember," Entei muttered, squinting his eyes. "As if she was designed by a different being than the one who designed our world…"

"Well, she is from another universe," Victini pointed out.

"Hmm. That's true," Entei admitted.

"Greetings," the woman said, stepping forward. "I am Darla Gugenheek, First Lady of the United States of America."

"I thought the First Lady of Ameroupe was someone else," Dark Shogun said.

"No, America, not Ameroupe," Darla said.

"Oh," Dark Shogun said.

"First Lady…wait! Then that means…you're Max's wife?!" Ash asked incredulously.

Darla nodded. "That is correct."

"…Max's…he married that?! HOW?!" Tenjin demanded.

"Well, if a Skitty and a Wailord can-" Briney started in amusement.

"That's! That's not…that's not what I…oh, forget it…" Tenjin groaned.

"Damn…Max married that? Dude is so lucky…" Tracey said.

"Yeah, really," Leo agreed. "She's sure grown up from that kid living in their sub-basement, huh?"

"And I'm Sam, Vice-President of the United States and member of the Freelance Police," Sam said, flashing a badge.

Looker groaned. "Great…this guy again…"

"The impossible one you said is an embarrassment to law enforcement everywhere?" Lucy asked.

"The very same," Looker said.

"Don't let him see me," George whispered to the annoyed Bruno.

With a rather catchy Choo-chuh-chah-chik noise, the DeSoto's front and back half split apart from each other slightly and swiveled, the back half of the car flipping over so its roof faced the ground before splitting again on the vertical axis and unfolding outward, creating a pair of legs with the rear wheels and bumpers making up the knees while the bulging roof of each car part formed the feet. Spikes sprouted from the sides of the wheels and the soles of the feet, and numerous blades and pipes emerged from the sides and backs of the legs, venting fire and noxious gas. The front of the car flipped down so that the DeSoto's hood and headlights formed a kind of torso, while the car's driver and passenger seats remained mounted on its back, underneath the raised roof and windshield, which sprouted several rows of spikes and pipes emitting gouts of flame and smoke. The glass on the headlights retracted, revealing a series of missile launchers and energy cannons, while more fire-venting pipes emerged from the sides and from the front fender and the grille cracked open into a pair of gruesome metallic jaws, an eerie infernal light emanating from within. The front wheels flipped outwards, a strong yet delicate metal limb unfolding from inside the right wheel socket to create an arm ending in ferociously sharp and powerful claws with spikes growing from the knuckles and lance-like spurs mounted on the lower arms, with the wheels and hubcaps as shoulder armor that promptly sprouted spikes and more of the ubiquitous flaming pipes. Another arm unfolding from the left wheel socket looked much bulkier and out of place, resembling the limb of a mechanical Groudon, one almost as big as the robot's entire body. It was unclear how it had been hidden beneath the machine's car form all this time. A section of the car's hood split apart and raised upwards, a hidden panel moving aside to reveal a head that had been concealed inside the vehicle's engine block. The head was demonic in nature, black and covered in horns and flame-venting pipes with claw-like protrusions caressing the face, which was silvery, humanoid, feminine, and might have been actually quite beautiful (if you were into that thing) if it weren't for the viciously sharp fangs bared in a terrifying grin and glowing eyes, one of which was red, and the other purple. (Then again, some people were into that sort of thing too.) As the mechanical monstrosity howled in rage and ecstasy, flames erupted from every orifice on its body and a purple symbol looking sort of like an abstract triangular face shimmered into existence on its chest, beneath the protruding hood. "And I am Outlaw, mightiest warrior of the Decepticon army!" she bellowed.

Most of the Earth warriors reflexively stepped back, limbs going to their weapons, if they had any. "Wh-what?! WHAT?!" Michael screamed.

"Yeah, sometimes we feel that way too," Tenjin said wearily.

"A real Decepticon?! That is so…" Tracey started.

"AWESOME!" Po finished, much to his friends' chagrin.

"Remarkable!" Oak cried.

"…I have no idea what's going on anymore," said the bewildered Lance.

"From what I hear, that's pretty standard around Team Aurabolt," Steven said.

"Yes," Boa said resignedly. "Yes, it is."

"Glorious!" Muramasa cried.

"WHAT THE FUCK," Raikou yelled.

"Yes, I ask myself the same thing all the time," Lugia said wearily.

"Hey, Outlaw! Long time no see! How are you doing?" Leo called up cheerfully to the giant death machine.

"Quite well, thank you for asking, worthless fleshling," Outlaw said.

"I still have your eye. Do you want it back?" Leo asked.

"…You have her eye?!" Michael cried.

"Yeah. Got it as a gift," Leo said.

"…I…that's…I don't want to know," Michael said lamely.

"You're learning," Tenjin said, patting the Leafeon on the shoulder.

"No, I've gotten used to this one…even though I still see strange things with it sometimes. I think I'm actually able to see spirits and peer into the Sparks of the living to read their secrets, which is pretty sweet, and has made me even more valuable to the Decepticon cause!" Outlaw bragged.

"Cool," Leo said.

"Why does she have that kind of power now?" Tiny asked.

"That crystal used to make her new eye came from Fichina. There were probably some magical properties involved," Lily said.

"Magic can work for giant robots?" Michael asked.

"Apparently so," Boa said.

"What are you three doing here? I thought you and Outlaw went off to look for Max, Sam," Ash asked the not-Lucario.

"We were," Sam said gruffly. "Why do you think we're here?"

"…Wait! Then you mean…" Ash gasped.

"The meatbag known as 'Max' is here? Correct," Outlaw said.

"Uh, who's Max?" Michael whispered. "And for that matter, who are these guys and how do you know them?!"

"Sam and Max are basically…police officers from another universe that we've run into a few times," Tenjin said vaguely.

"And Outlaw's their giant robot car!" Leo said brightly.

"They helped us out a great deal during the battle of Dusty Ditch, and Shimmering Desert…but Max got abducted by my evil mother because she was fascinated by his power to turn into a giant Eldritch Abomination at will," Lily said.

"…What?!" Michael said.

"Why are you asking this? I thought we told you about this stuff," Tiny said.

"To be perfectly honest, some of the things you've told me are so fantastic and absurd I half-believed you were making some of it up," Michael confessed.

"If only we were," Tenjin said soberly. "If only we were."

"Max is here?" Sasha asked. "You are certain?"

"Yeah, I thought Bellum had him," Tracey said.

"She did. Then he got moved here because they have bigger facilities and resources in their main base on Olympus Mons," Sam said.

"Coronet Mons," Darla corrected.

"Right, that. Sorry, was thinking of our Mars," Sam said.

"They have managed to find a way to keep Max in his giant monster form and control him," Outlaw said angrily.

"Something I myself would have thought nearly impossible. I can barely control him, and I'm his wife!" Darla said.

"How did they manage that?" Dawn asked.

"Between my Mother and Doctor Tarantulas, it wouldn't surprise me that they managed to find a way," Lily said darkly. She frowned in thought. "Despite utterly despising each other, they really do work quite well together, and have collaborated quite often."

"Well, there were rumors going around the base that she and the Doc had a thing for each other but wouldn't admit it," Raikou commented.

"The rumors are true. Bellum has been in mourning since Tarantulas's death," Nosferatina said.

Raikou blinked in surprise. "What? Really?! How did you…oh right, that freaky vampire spy network thing. Forgot about that."

"The Doctor and Bellum…now there's a match made in the Abyss," Suicune said.

"Good thing he died before the two of them could consummate their union. Good job, Professor," Entei said.

"Just doing my part to make the world a better place," Oak said.

"The Doc and Bellum?! Ew…well, at least it's not as gross as Chobin and Marianne," Leo said with a shudder.

"I still can't believe that piece of…excrement could land a girlfriend," said an incredulous Tenjin.

"Nor can I," Dawn said darkly, recalling how Chobin had violated her.

"Bellum…and the Doctor?! No…that is not possible! My mother is not capable of love!" Lily protested.

"I think she was just as surprised to discover her feelings for Tarantulas as you are," Nosferatina said.

"But…no! She can't love! She can't! Because if she's capable of it, then why…why couldn't she love…" Lily trailed off, eyes glistening. Leo hugged her.

"Uh…so! Any other juicy Nihilator gossip you're aware of?" Victini asked loudly to change the subject.

"Yes, but how much of it is useful is…limited. Oblivion's Shadow has cracked down severely on security since my escape. My friends are finding it even more difficult than ever to find information, let alone commit sabotage," Nosferatina said.

Bridget nodded. "Yeah, my boss is finding it next to impossible to spy on the Shadow anymore. He's gotten even more paranoid than usual!"

"Not only that, but he seems to be growing steadily more…unhinged," Nosferatina said, looking troubled. "He's taken up the name and armor of Lord Null once again."

Ash stiffened, his Aura flaring up. "He's done what?!"

"Uh oh…" Tiny whispered.

"He is calling himself Lord Null again, and wearing armor similar to what he possessed a thousand years ago," Nosferatina repeated.

Ash's pupils shrank. He clenched his fist and bared his teeth. "Null…"

"Ash?!" Tenjin cried in alarm, seeing Ash's Aura flare up and start to darken.

"Oh crap, not now! Not now!" Leo wailed.

"Do I have to hit you with my hammer again, boy?" Briney asked in annoyance, hefting his hammer.

Michael's eyes widened. "…Is that really necessary?!"

"It might be," Briney said grimly.

"Yes! Here it comes here it comes here it comes here it comes!" Misty squealed in delight.

"At last."

For a moment, rage flickered through Ash's mind. He saw her dying in his arms again, over and over.

And then he saw him. His brother. The mon he'd promised to save from his own darkness…just like he had promised not to give in to his own. He couldn't let Mewtwo down. He couldn't let any of them down. Not now. Not when they were so close.

Ash took a deep breath, counted to ten, and opened his eyes, his muscles relaxing. His Aura lightened and died down. "I'm okay," he apologized to his worried friends. "Sorry. I…just wasn't expecting to hear that name again. To hear that he was back."

"Aww, darn," Misty complained.

"Next time."

"Phew! Glad that's over," Tiny said in relief.

"Yeah, until the next time…" Leo said morbidly.

"…Didn't you already know that Lord Null and Oblivion's Shadow were the same person?" Michael asked.

Ash nodded. "Yeah, but…well…he's been calling himself Oblivion's Shadow for a while now, and looked different. For him to go back to his old name and look…well, I guess it triggered some bad memories."

"And I imagine seeing him will trigger even worse memories," Briney said.

"I'll know what to expect this time," Ash insisted. "I'll have it under control."

"…You'd better," the Metagross said dubiously.

Nosferatina blinked. "…What just happened?"

"Ash has been having some…anger management issues lately," Tenjin said lamely. "We're working to get it under control."

"And failing," Misty gloated.

"Huh. You'd think they'd have picked someone with better control of his personal issues to be the Chosen One," Po commented.

His friends stared at him, incredulous of the complete and utter irony of this statement. "Yes, Po, because you're the ideal Dragon Warrior," Mantis said deadpan.

"That's right, I am!" Po said. His friends facefaulted.

Darla nodded in understanding. "Yes, I know what that's like. Sam's been rather unhinged ever since he lost Max."

"I'LL SHOW YOU UNHINGED! I'LL SHOW YOU ALL!" Sam screamed, wildly shooting his gun in the air.

"My point exactly," Darla said.

"Speaking of Max, can we get back on topic instead of discussing the mental issues of some worthless meatbag?" Outlaw asked in disdain.

"This 'worthless meatbag' is the Chosen One!" Lugia snarled.

Outlaw snorted. "Please, everyone knows the real Chosen One is Optimus Prime, no matter what that whiny Hot Rod says."

"She has a point there," Tracey said.

"She does?" asked a confused Lily.

"Lots of cultures and myths speak of a Chosen One. Most of them aren't referring to the same person," Oak admitted. "It's kind of a catch-all term for a legendary hero of destiny."

"That may be so, but Ash is the Chosen One who will vanquish the Ruler of Evil and save the Omniverse!" Lugia asserted.

"Whatever," Outlaw said, not caring in the slightest.

"Anyway, back to my husband," Darla said. "The NIhilators have taken control of his monster form and he's currently helping to guard their main hideout."

"Outlaw and I tracked Max down here and tried to get inside of him to free him from their clutches, but their defenses were too strong so we had to run for it," Sam said.

"TACTICAL RETREAT!" Outlaw shouted.

"You know, everyone knows that actually means 'running away.' There's no reason to keep calling it something else to save face," Alder said.

"Yes there is," Outlaw said stubbornly.

"Yeah, there is," Victini agreed.

"They wound up running into one of our scouting parties, and we quickly took them back here," Nosferatina continued. "They promised us support in exchange for our help in freeing Max."

"They came back to our universe and informed me what was going on," Darla said. "I quickly mobilized the troops, and we were able to bring a small army of our own to this planet to help the war effort."

"So now we have another army joining up with us? Awesome!" Leo said.

"That is rather advantageous," Dawn agreed.

"Though why'd it have to be an army from their world? I shudder to think what they might have brought with them…" Tenjin said with a grimace.

"Another army, huh? Well, the more the merrier. What sort of forces do you have with you?" Victini asked.

"Twelve hundred Maimtron 1,000,000s equipped with nuclear warheads, one of the greatest former Presidents in American history, the Rubber Pants Commandoes, Max's and my children—which are so dangerous and uncontrollable that there has been a UN sanction leveled against us to keep from using them as a weapon against other countries on our world-and a small contingent of Decepticons Outlaw was able to convince Megatron to lend us," Darla said.

"…That's a lot of giant robots," Leo said, drooling.

"Yeah…really…" Tracey agreed, also drooling.

"So awesome…" Po gushed, also…you get the picture.

Tenjin sighed. "Giant robots. Of course there's giant robots."

"You do realize that a lot of the countries we've teamed up with are going to be fielding giant mechas, right?" Ash asked.

Briney nodded. "And then there's…well, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise."

"We already know about that," Sasha said.

"Yes, but I don't feel like talking about it just now," Briney said obstinately.

"Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain the assistance of the Constructicons, Combaticons, Predacons, or any other elite team since Lord Megatron did not see rescuing Max as a 'high priority' despite him being one of our staunchest allies," Outlaw grumbled. "He was willing to give me a dozen or so ships and a few hundred Vehicons, but that's about it aside from the small number of Decepticons already under my command as Decepticon ambassador to Earth."

"That doesn't sound so bad," Tiny said.

"Vehicons are cannon fodder. They only exist to be destroyed in mass numbers by the Autobots," Leo said.


"No it's not," Sam said.

"SILENCE!" Outlaw bellowed.

"But aren't all Decepticons giant robots?" Boa asked.

"Yep," Leo said.

"…Then how can they be cannon fodder?" Boa asked.

"Vehicons are mass-produced soldiers. It takes up less resources to use cheap building materials and only give them basic combat programming," Sam explained.

"THAT IS A LIE! THE VEHICON FORCES ARE THE PRIDE OF…THE PRIDE OF…oh who am I kidding, they're almost completely useless," Outlaw admitted reluctantly.

"…And how is it that the Decepticons have yet to be completely defeated with soldiers like that?" Dawn asked.

"They have thousands of Vehicon soldiers as well as hundreds of more specialized warriors like Outlaw, each of which is capable of taking on a small army all by themselves," Darla explained. "However, it's pretty much the same for the Autobots, which is why the war's been going on for millions of years."

"They're aren't really as different from each other as they'd like to think," Sam said. "But then again, are any of us, really? Skin color…body type…hair color…gender…species…all of us are born and die crying for mommy, desperately sucking at the teat of life, begging for more time, more milk, before all of us inevitably fade into the darkness and disappear, until we're only a memory, and then not even that due to the people that remember us getting senile and eventually dying and the graves used to mark us eroding away or our bodies getting dug up to be used in mad science experiments or rising up as zombies to take our revenge on the living and I forgot where I was going with this."

Everyone stared blankly at him. "Uh?" Michael said.

"Yeah, what he said," Tiny said.

Darla sighed. "The sooner we get Max back, the better. He keeps breaking into these noir-esque rants that are supposed to sound grim and meaningful but aren't, really."

"Meaning? Meaning?! There is no meaning to be found in life. There is no purpose, no fate, just a hopeless bunch meandering from birth to death, stumbling and falling along the way, desperately searching for a meaning that doesn't exist. The only purpose of life is to make more of itself and end. That is all we have to look forward to-" Sam rambled.

Darla slapped a hand over his mouth. "You get my point."

"Wow. What did you ever see in that guy?" Bruno wondered.

George facepawed. "I ask myself the same question all the time…"

"So we have a new army to add to our union and, presumably, new intel on what the Nihilators have been up to," Tenjin said.

"Does this change our strategy any?" Ash asked Victini.

"Well, that depends on the nature of the intel. Once I have a better idea of what we're up against and what's available for us to use, I can adjust our tactics accordingly," Victini said.

"Won't we win anyway, since you're here?" Sasha asked.

"Yes, but with good tactics, we can minimize casualties on our side. Plus, it'll look a lot cooler," Victini said with a wink and a grin. "I don't win all my fights just by relying on my luck. That's lazy and boring. By using good tactics, I can ensure that any battle I'm in will be not just victorious, but showy and stylish as hell."

Leo nodded in agreement. "I'll take a Showy Invincible Hero over a Boring Invincible Hero any day of the week."

"Why are you consulting her for tactics? She's so…small. And puny. And weak-" Outlaw sneered until Victini, without even looking at the Decepticon, thrust out a palm and fired a massive Searing Shot at the giant robot. The ridiculously large fireball slammed into Outlaw and exploded, flinging her off the bridge. She screamed as she plummeted thousands of feet before splashing down in the lake far below.

"That's why," Victini said calmly.

"Heh. Nice shot," Frank said, glad he hadn't been too awestruck to snap a photo.

"…Whoa," Tiny said. "I didn't know she could do that."

"Well, there's a reason she's a goddess of war and victory," said the impressed Lily.

Leo nodded. "She's small and cute, which naturally means she's one of the most powerful Pokemon around. Stands to reason."

Po nodded. "Yeah, just like Master Shifu. The guy's gotta be pushing at least a couple hundred, if not older, and he can still kick my butt."

"He'd probably kick your butt less if you actually took your training seriously," Monkey pointed out.

"I do too take my training seriously!...most of the time…" Po grumbled.

"I'm not small and cute and I could take her," Briney grunted.

"Cannot," Victini said, sticking out her tongue. Briney narrowed his eyes at her.

"Should we be worried about her?" Nosferatina asked in concern, looking over the side of the walkway to the surface of the lake, the ripples and waves from Outlaw splashing down into it ebbing away.

"Nah, she can swim," Sam said.

"…I don't think she can, actually," Darla said.

"Oh. Well…she's a giant alien robot. She'll be fine. She can climb back up or something," Sam said.

"Should we fish her out? We could use the Great Peeko's tractor beams or teleporter…" Dawn suggested.

"And I could dive in and retrieve her," Lugia offered.

"Wallace could, too," Steven said.

"Wh-what?! Don't volunteer me!" the Milotic hissed. "And besides, how would I lift something that heavy?!"

"Nah, leave her there. She needs to learn a lesson in humility now and then," Darla said.

Briney nodded. "Yep, it's never a good idea to underestimate you squishies." Everyone stared at him. "What? I'm a silicon-based life form too."

"Right…anyway, if you wish to review our latest intelligence, come with us and we can formulate our strategy inside," Nosferatina said.

Victini nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me."

"How do we not already know this information?" Michael asked as Nosferatina, Sam, Darla, and the Martians led them towards the giant statue. "I thought Darkrai was supposed to be keeping us up-to-date on what the Nihilators were up to, and our allies on Mars."

"The boss's been busy gearing up the armada and staying by his wife's bedside to make sure she's okay. It's understandable he'd be a bit distracted," Bridget said.

"That, and he's been having trouble spying on the Nihilators due to Lord Null's latest security measures. Nosferatina and her rebel friends are quickly becoming our only in into the Nihilators' plans…and even then, there's not as much as we would like," Sasha added.

"It'll have to do," Tenjin said.

Nosferatina nodded. "Even with Null's increased paranoia and security, I am confident we have enough information to defeat him, especially with all the allies waiting on Earth and around the Moon."

"You probably shouldn't stay stuff like that too often," Leo warned her. "Don't want to tempt fate."

Boa nodded. "As much as it pains me to admit it, he's probably right."

Nosferatina frowned. "Is he? Ah. I shall try to do less of that in the future."

Ash nodded in agreement. "Leo's right. We may have armies from all over the world, and even from other worlds…but Null's probably the biggest threat. He's strong enough to destroy entire planets all by himself…I know that from experience."

"Yeah, the big guy's something else…" Entei said.

"I have seen him in action…both as Oblivion's Shadow and as Null, a thousand years ago," Suicune recalled.

"Almost every Legendary who was able took him on…and lost…" Raikou said soberly. "What's to keep the same thing from happening again?"

"The last time, we didn't have an army as big and awesome as the one we're fielding," Victini said. "Plus, I wasn't there. If I had, things might've been different."

"And this time, I'm going to be fighting too," Ash said. "That has to make a difference, right?"

"Yeah, for the worst," Misty said.

"Speaking of Null…Ash, we may have a bit of an advantage over him," Nosferatina said.

Ash raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"I awakened his buried good half—Mewtwo—before I escaped his hideout," Nosferatina reminded them. "Even though Null is still dominant, Mewtwo is fighting back. And hard, if the latest information I've received is anything to go by. Null is…unstable. He argues with himself, and mutilates his right arm."

"What? That's horrible! Why would he do that?" asked a repulsed Michael.

"Oh, Mewtwo's probably got partial control over his right arm and is fighting Null's control as hard as he can, and Null mutilating the arm is an attempt to keep him suppressed," Leo said. "I've seen it before a hundred times."

"…Seriously?!" Michael said incredulously.

"Yeah, I've heard of this sort of thing too," Tracey agreed. "Standard Fighting from Within stuff."

"Huh. That actually is helpful…it means Null will be fighting on two fronts," Ash reasoned.

"That doesn't mean it'll be easier, though," Nosferatina pointed out. "As I said, he's unstable. He's slowly losing his mind after all these setbacks and having to deal with his other half."

"That's still not necessarily a bad thing. Sanity has its advantages, after all," Ash said.

"Yes, too bad absolutely none of us have any of that anymore," Tenjin said morosely.

"Yeah, you're hardly one to talk about sanity, Ash," Misty agreed.

"Shut up, imaginary manifestation of my guilt and self-loathing that happens to look like the zombified form of the preincarnation of my girlfriend," Ash snarled.

"…I have clearly missed out on a lot since we last saw each other," Nosferatina said slowly.

"Tell me about it," Michael snorted. "Join the club."

"There is a lot we must catch up on once this war is over," Nosferatina resolved.

"Yeah," Ash agreed. "Once everything's over." After we've stopped the Nihilators, destroyed Null, freed Mewtwo, somehow get Misty back, and purified my heart. Maybe…maybe then, things can finally go back to normal…

Then again…after everything that's changed…I'm not even sure what normal is anymore…

Thousands of feet below them, Outlaw breached the surface, gasping and spluttering as she desperately clambered to get a clawhold in the ankle of the Citadel of Life to keep herself from sinking back down to the bottom of the lake. "This," she said miserably as water dripped down her face, and she had to activate tiny windshield wipers to keep her optics clear. "Is why I hate organics."

Several minutes later…

The Earth delegation, the visitors from Sam and Max's world, and several dozen Martians, some vampiric and others not, had gathered in a massive circular amphitheater somewhere inside the Citadel of Life, with dozens of concentric rows of seats leading down to a central floor with what looked like some kind of projection device in the center. Frank was allowed to stay, so long as he kept quiet and kept in mind that the things he took notes of and recorded would have to be checked later to determine how much of it would be suitable for the general public to be aware of. The chamber was made of a mix of red stone and some kind of white ceramic material, with a domed roof overhead covered in Martian symbols. Victini was hovering near the projector, looking resplendent in her armor and cape, with a pair of Martian attendants nearby. "All right, troops, listen up, because I'm only going to explain this once!" Victini barked to the assembled Pokemon. "After carefully reviewing the latest intelligence from inside the Nihilator base and taking our newest—and possibly strangest—allies into consideration, I've made a few slight adjustments to our strategy. Nothing major, but here's how we're going to do things, and what we're up against."

She nodded at the nearby Martians, who made some adjustments to the control panel for the central projector. The device lit up, and suddenly the floor of the room was taken up by a massive and breathtakingly realistic hologram of Coronet Mons and the surrounding plains. Even in miniature the great volcano was imposing, and seemed to loom over all of them, even though many of the attendees were sitting far above it. "That's one big mountain…" Frank muttered.

"The tallest in the Solar System!" Leo bragged.

"Second tallest. Rheasilvia on Venus is slightly taller," Tracey corrected him.

Leo rolled his eyes. "Okay, but it's still the tallest volcano in the Solar System, right?"

"I think so…" Tracey muttered.

"That's good enough for me, then," Leo said.

"It's sure a lot bigger than Mt. Blaze back home," Ash said.

"Especially since Mt. Blaze has been completely destroyed," Tenjin pointed out.

"And there was an evil force occupying that place that was only overcome by a unified army…much like we're doing here, albeit on a larger scale. Funny how something like that is happening again so soon, isn't it?" Boa commented.

"Eh, villains love volcano lairs. It was gonna happen to us sooner or later," Leo said dismissively.

"Didn't we already go to a supervillain volcano lair? Does Mt. Battle count?" Tiny asked.

"…Huh. Good question," Leo muttered. "I mean, it was a town, not just an evil base. Plus, supervillain volcano lairs erupt spectacularly, but the Musirangers froze the mountain before it could blow…hmm…well, if it does count, there's no reason we can't visit two supervillain volcano lairs, is there?"

"Just how big is that mountain?" Michael asked.

"About twenty-two kilometers," Tiny said. Everyone looked at him. "What? I'm from the Pupitar line. We eat mountains. We know this kind of thing."

"So that's what the base looks like…now I know where Mother went whenever she went to meet Oblivion's Shadow…" Lily murmured.

"We're going there to meet the Shadow—or rather, Null—soon enough," Ash said grimly.

"This is Coronet Mons, as it used to look, back in the heyday," Victini said as the hologram altered to show a thriving Martian city girding the volcano's foothills, flying saucers and other conveyances filling the skies. Oak leaned forward eagerly, his archaeological senses tingling. "And this…is what it looks like right now."

The hologram altered again. The city vanished. In its place was something far less wonderful.

Coronet Mons now had several nasty-looking black spires jutting from its slopes. A transparent dome covered the crater at its peak, and several evil-looking structures could be seen within. Massive cannons, each about half the size of the statue they were currently inside of, jutted from the mountain face, pointing in every direction. A massive metal seal with the Nihilator emblem carved into it was prominently mounted on top of an especially deadly-looking cannon battery. A once-majestic natural wonder had become a fortress of evil.

"Now that," Leo said hoarsely. "Is a volcano supervillain lair."

The plains weren't much better. There was no sign of the beautiful Martian city that had once stood there. Surrounding the mountain for miles in every direction were the Nihilator legions. Dozens of Arachnoblasts stood at attention, surrounded by hundreds of warships of all shapes and sizes; some the size of the one the Great Peeko had been retrofitted from, and others larger. Thousands of Nihilator troopers and hundreds of tanks milled about the feet of the giant spider robots, while smaller mecha, including life-sized mechanical Groudons, stomped around on patrol and fighters zipped through the air around the warships.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Stalking around the outer perimeter of the massive enemy force was a goliath creature that only vaguely resembled a Buneary. Far too many purple eyes with slit pupils sunk into deep pits blinked across its face and all over its body. Its skin was slimy, dark green and scaly, with purple spots dotting it here and there along with the aforementioned eyes, spines, a number of small, toothy maws and wriggling tendrils. Instead of feet, its lower body was a long, thick tail dragging along the ground, slime oozing from pores on its surface, barbs, tentacles, eyes, and mouths growing from its surface. Bone plates and scales covered the forearms—of which, humorously, it had four; not four arms rather but two arms that split halfway down-and sides. The back was split open, revealing exposed vertebrae, along with four massive tentacles writhing and slicing through the air and a pair of big black wings with tendrils between the membranes instead of bony fingers. Its long floppy ears wriggled through the air as well, toothed suckers on their undersides. Still more tentacles hung down in front of its very wide, toothy primary mouth, though there was an even bigger vertically split mouth on its torso with far too many tentacles and tongues wriggling out of it, and dozens of eyes blinking around its rim. Its skull was split open to reveal its brain, and there was a rather large vaguely arachnoid metal contraption planted in it, its segmented limbs driven into the exposed purple matter. The behemoth was twice as tall as the biggest Arachnoblast, surrounded by a swarm of flaming dots that looked almost like chattering white Bunneary heads.

Sam clenched his fists. "Max…"

"My husband has seen better days," Darla said with a frown.

"What happened to him?! He looks even worse than the last time he became a giant monster!" Tiny said.

"My mother and Tarantulas's work, no doubt…" Lily growled.

"Now that is an Eldritch Abomination!" Leo said approvingly. "My head hurts just looking at it, and it's only a hologram!"

"Eh, I've seen worse," Oak said indifferently.

"Me too," Briney agreed.

"Yeah, there's scarier shit under my bed," Bridget said, unimpressed.

"I'm gonna punch it in the face!" Bruno declared.

However, even the new and improved Maxthulhu wasn't the biggest or baddest thing around Coronet Mons. Hovering above the mountain's peak, so massive it cast a shadow over a significant portion of the volcano and the army surrounding it, was what looked like an absolutely colossal purple Wailord. Well, aside from the extra eyes and flippers. And the fact that it was flying. And how white armor had been fused to most of its body, covering the Wailord's body in massive white plates and obscuring nearly all of its natural features. The plates were mostly covered with complex-looking lines and patterns, a rather alarming number of turrets and weapons batteries, and thrusters and engines mounted along its length. About a dozen wings with skyscraper-sized thrusters burning on them sprouted from several points on its sides. A number of jagged white spires arose from its back and underbelly, smaller ships swarming around them. The Nihilator crest was marked on both sides of the massive warship's sides.

"The heck is that?" Michael asked incredulously. "Is that a ship or…or a Wailord?!"

"Both," Raikou said.

"Both? How?!" Michael demanded.

"Especially since I'm fairly certain Wailords don't usually get that big or fly…outside of Fichina, anyway," Dawn said.

"That's because it's not a normal Wailord, but a space Wailord," Suicune said.

"…I…what?" Tenjin said.

"A space Wailord," Entei elaborated. "As in, a Wailord who lives in outer space."

"…I'm…I'm sorry. There are Wailord in space?!" Tenjin asked incredulously.

"Well, yeah. You didn't know that? I thought everyone did," Raikou said. Tenjin gaped at him.

"Makes sense to me," Leo commented.

Tracey nodded in agreement. "Yeah, if space is an ocean, then naturally you've gotta have Wailord."

"SPACE IS NOT AN OCEAN!" Tenjin screamed.

"We just got here in a spaceship that's part high-tech magic pirate ship. Your argument is invalid," Briney said. Tenjin facepalmed.

"There are really Wailord in space?" Tiny asked, awed.

Ciela nodded. "Certainly. They swim across the stars in migratory patterns that last for millions of years, feeding on cosmic rays and stardust. They are extremely peaceful and benevolent beings, who are often known to help space travelers who have lost their way."

"How magnificent! Such beauty and majesty…oh, I wish I could see them in their natural habitat!" Wallace gushed.

"I wonder how big their penises are," Tiny said.

Everyone looked at him in horror, except for Ash, who was staring at the Wailord/ship with a strange look on his face. "Tiny!" Lily gasped.

"What?" Tiny asked. "I looked it up. Wailord are supposed to have huge prehensile penises."

"That's right, they do," Wallace said, a disturbingly…dreamy look on his face. Cynthia and Alder edged away from him.

"So a giant space Wailord probably has a giant prehensile space penis, right?" Tiny continued.

"Hmm…yeah, I could see that," Briney said.

"So can I," said Boa, a revolted look on her face.

"That's actually a good question," Oak commented, rubbing his chin in thought. "How exactly do massive spaceborne creatures reproduce? Are their…ahem, reproductive parts as immune to cosmic radiation as I would assume the rest of their bodies are? I'm not positive that lengthy prehensile members like the ones our Wailords have would be practical for something that lives in deep space, what with all the micrometeorites and debris clouds whizzing through the cosmos that could easily rupture them…unless they're extremely, ah, hard, and not in the sense you might be thinking about…"

"…Are we seriously talking about giant space Wailord penises?!" asked an astonished Michael.

"And the worst thing is, this isn't even the weirdest or most disgusting thing we've ever talked about," Tenjin said resignedly.

Dawn nodded miserably. "I wish I could forget the time you and Leo had a very lengthy discussion about condoms while Ash was being drowned by Manaphy…"

"…Wait, what?!" Michael cried.

"It makes more sense in context," Sasha said. She paused for a moment, and then admitted. "Well, no, actually, it doesn't, really."

"Story of our life," Tiny agreed.

"I'm gonna punch it in the face!" Bruno declared.

"So of course Lord Null, being the tremendous asshat that he is, captured a pod when they entered our solar system and made great use of their incredible power and spacefaring capabilities," Bridget said loudly, trying to get everyone's minds off of giant space Wailord penises and back on track. "He made the thing you see before you by grafting mechanical parts to the largest of the Wailords until it was more metal than mon and carved out its innards to turn it into a warship of unfathomable power. He's done the same to a few others, but most weren't strong enough to survive the process so he carved them up and used their oil for fuel and blubber and meat as an alternative food source for his troops."

"I no longer want to punch it in the face," Bruno said.

"…That's…that's horrible…" Lily whispered, aghast.

"Huh. And here I thought wailers back home were a nasty bunch…" said a disgusted Leo.

"They are," Briney said. "Which is why, whenever I run into any illegally hunting Wailords or Wailmers, I do to them what they were going to do to those magnificent sea creatures."

"…That's kind of horrible too, Briney," said a disturbed Boa.

"I'm not a nice person," Briney said.

"We do worse to the wailers we catch in my kingdom, too," Wallace said soberly. "Wailord are regarded as among our most cherished and precious citizens, practically national treasures due to their great age, size, and wisdom. Anyone who would dare to harm them soon regrets it."

"Did Lord Null castrate the Wailord, too?" Tiny asked.

"TINY!" everyone shouted.

"What? It's a legitimate question," Tiny said.

"I wouldn't put it past him," Briney said.

"In my kingdom, anyone who castrates a Wailord receives a punishment worse than death," Wallace said darkly.

"Going on a date with you?" Lance joked. Lots of people glared at him. "Yeah, okay, that was in bad taste…"

"From a practical standpoint, it would make sense to castrate the creature…make it easier to control, remove its testosterone glands to make it more docile…hmm, unless it's a female…hard to tell its gender just by looking at it thanks to all the modifications that have clearly been done to it," Oak said.

"Well, you're forgetting that it's an alien life form. It might have a completely different classification of gender from what we're familiar with," Tracey pointed out.

Leo nodded. "Yeah, it might even be a hermaphrodite. That might actually make sense given it's something that lives in space. Would make reproducing easier. Assuming they give birth the same way we do, that is."

"Ah, yes, I hadn't considered that," Oak admitted.

"Wait, are you saying they might not be able to mate with each other? But that's so…boring," Lune said. Her sisters nodded in agreement. As creatures of Faerie, they rather enjoyed the pleasurous act of intercourse. The thought of not being able to do it baffled them.

"Those poor, pathetic, beautiful creatures," Po said. "Never able to know the joys of sex."

"Po, aren't you still a virgin?" Monkey asked.

"…Noooo…I've done it with…uh…Tig-" Tigress gave him a look that promised him death if he finished that sentence. "Um…uh…Viper!"

"No we didn't!" the Seviper said, startled.

"Sure we did! Don't you remember last New Year's?" Po asked.

"No," Viper said, confused.

"Exactly," Po said.

"…They can have sex," said a thoroughly baffled Ciela.

"Oh, all right then," Po said.

"That's a relief," Wallace said.

"Speaking of which, I hope my first time with Nefertari when we're older will be nice-" Tiny started.


"Ash, shouldn't you be doing something about this?! He's your son!" Tenjin shouted.

"That ship…I know that ship…" Ash, who hadn't been paying any attention whatsoever to what everyone else was going on about, whispered, tensing up as memories flowed back to him.

The Supreme Stadium rang with screams as lightning bolts shot all over the place and came dangerously close to striking them, the air filled with the deafening boom of thunder as the clouds swallowed up the sky above them and blotted out the sun, casting the entire city into darkness. Abruptly the clouds burst open, but it was not rain that poured forth from their depths but ships, immense white flying vessels bristling with spines and cannons and other deadly protuberances, the biggest of which looked almost like some kind of ridiculously large flying Wailord. Each ship had a very familiar mark on it, a blazing 'A' seared upon the surface of a scorched planet, the emblem of Annihilation. Seeing this, the audience only screamed all the louder at the realization that the dreaded terrorist group was right there in their city, just over their heads, their cries of terror drowning out the President's desperate pleas for order and calm.

Paul frowned, his expression even grimmer than usual. Ash's jaw dropped in horror as the ships swiveled their weapons on the city below and began to open fire, launching missiles and shooting lasers and dropping bombs, tearing buildings apart and leveling blocks and killing thousands of humans and Pokemon in the opening salvo.

"It was there…on the day the world ended…" Ash whispered.

Lugia nodded. "You should remember that vessel, Ash. It was Lord Null's flagship a thousand years ago, back when he led Annihilation. It led his fleets in wiping out all life on Earth….the Diabolus ex Nihilo."

"…What kind of a name is that?" asked a confused Michael.

"What does it mean?" Sasha asked.

"It means 'Devil from Nothing.' It's a literary term for an enemy so foul, horrible, or vile that it needs no backstory or reasoning. It just appears from nowhere, does its job of shaking up things and antagonizing the heroes, and dies," Oak explained.

"…But we just heard its backstory," Boa pointed out. "It most definitely has a past."

"Yes, but how many of the people who've ever encountered it do you suppose lived to tell the tale, let alone figure out just what it is?" Oak pointed out.

"…Fair enough," Boa admitted.

"Maybe he just called it that because he thought it'd be cool. It's what I'd do," Leo said.

"I think we can all be very glad Lord Null is not like you, Leo," Tenjin said, repressing a shudder.

"Yeah, good thing, too, or he'd have already won," Leo said. They all considered this for a moment. They promptly wished they hadn't.

"It's still a strange name for a ship," Tiny said, changing the subject.

"Meh, I've heard stranger," Briney said.

"Wait…if it was Null's ship a thousand years…is it still alive?!" Lily demanded.

"I am afraid so," Ciela said softly.

"…Is it in pain?" Lily asked.

"A great deal," Bridget said grimly.

"That poor creature…" Lily whispered.

"Wow. Like The Beast Below, only eviler…" said a disgusted Tracey.

"Just another thing we need to make Null pay for," Ash growled, clenching his fists, Aura briefly blazing up.

"Yeah, I know what you're thinking…looks pretty intimidating, doesn't it?" Victini asked the crowd, seeing all the alarmed faces at the images of what they were going up against.

"Actually, I think it looks like a good time!" Bruno called out.

Victini snickered as the rest of the crowd laughed a little, the tension broken. "Heh. You would, wouldn't you? Don't worry, it's not as bad as it looks. And no, it's not worse…although this isn't exactly all of what we're up against." She nodded at the Martians, and suddenly the ceiling far above them was full of hundreds of deadly-looking spaceships, space stations, and satellites, with a few gargantuan capital ships resembling Diabolus ex Nihilo, no doubt also made from Space Wailords. "Aside from the rather sizable ground forces, the Nihilators have some significant orbital support as well, which is why we warped here rather than trying to fly here, since there'd be a ridiculous blockade run waiting for us. Don't worry about being bombarded by death from above, though, the Lunar Armada's going to run interference for us and keep the forces in space busy while we take care of things groundside. Right, Ciela and Bridget?"

The two Clefairies nodded. "The Lunar Armada is ready for launch. All we need to do is signal them that we're ready to begin the invasion, and they'll be here in a blink of an eye."

"Literally. We've got really good engines," Bridget said smugly.

"So, that's one less thing to worry about," Victini continued. "And while these guys look pretty tough," she said, gesturing to the army outside Coronet Mons. "Remember that, even though a lot of what they have is bigger size-wise, we have the advantage of numbers once we bring in our reinforcements from Earth." Lance raised a hand. Victini frowned. "I wasn't planning on taking questions, but…yes?"

Lance stood up. "Speaking of numbers, ma'am…how exactly are they monning all these ships and war machines? I'd heard their numbers were dwindling, especially since we wiped out all of their forces Earthside."

"A good question," Victini said approvingly. "Most of the ships and mechas and whatnot have been designed so they can be operated by a skeleton crew. Even then, personnel's gotten pretty thin, so they've had to resort to slave-rigging some ships, remote-controlling others, and having others crewed by those robot spiders Tarantulas and Arackaiser are so fond of. They're also trying to clone troopers, but it's taking longer than they would like."

Steven raised a limb. After Victini nodded at him, he said, "But I thought Arackaiser was able to instantaneously make dozens of clones of himself in the battle beneath Treasure Town."

"Yeah, he did. It was a real pain in the shell," Leo complained.

"Something about Arackaiser's genetic makeup makes him easier to clone in mass batches at high speed. Other Nihilators are harder. I don't know why, I'm not a scientist," Victini said. "Whatever the case, while it looks like they've got a lot of mooks, what we see is almost entirely what they've got. They're desperate. They know we're coming for them and are going all-out." She grinned. "And that is where our next advantage comes in: our mons on the inside. Since they've got so much of their monpower focused on defense, there's not nearly as much of a Nihilator presence inside the fortress. Oh sure, there's plenty of automated defenses and those stupid spiders, but it's a far cry from how it usually is, and those who are still in the base will be too focused on repelling our assault to think about an attack from within…which is why, when Nosferatina's rebel friends break free and let loose, it won't just be a revolt. It'll be a bloodbath."

"My children will feed well before this is over…" Nosferatina said, licking her lips.

Cynthia raised a claw. "Um, sorry to interrupt, but…speaking of prisoners, what of the Nihilator hostages? The prisoners they have outside the base, whom Oblivion's Shadow threatened to kill if we set foot on Mars?"

"Oh, don't worry about those," Victini said. "Nosferatina's already made preparations for those."

Nosferatina nodded. "We've got burrowers waiting to tunnel them to safety once the fighting starts, and we've already isolated the signal frequency used in their control chips so we can keep Null from flipping the 'kill switch' and wiping them all out. My vampires will use their powers to keep him from Psychically killing them and anyone else in the base who is not one of my kin long enough for them to be taken to safety, and Null will be too busy fighting us to bother with them anyway."

"I see…that is a relief," Cynthia said. "Those poor souls have already suffered enough…I'm glad that soon we'll be able to bring their pain to an end."

"Amen to that," Alder agreed.

"So, let's get down to brass tacks. Our strategy will be relatively simple, which is ideal, since the more complex a plan is, the more likely it is to fail," Victini said. The image of the plains of Coronet Mons zoomed out, and holograms of the Great Peeko, dozens of flying saucers of all shapes and sizes, several spiky purple and black ships at least as big if not bigger than the Great Peeko, and an army of two story-tall bipedal robots flew into view. They looked almost comically tiny compared to the massive Nihilator force just ahead of them. "First, we'll approach them with the Great Peeko and all the other forces currently at our disposal. The Nihilators will be surprised, but won't think we're much of a threat since we're so vastly outnumbered." She grinned. "Which is when we turn the tables on them, courtesy of Lily and Fantina's magnificent Portalstone."

Dozens of massive portals swirled to life around the perimeter of the plains, and thousands of soldiers, tanks, ships, and even a few giant robots and monsters marched out onto the field. Most of them were smaller than the Arachnoblasts, and much smaller than Maxthulhu, but there were quite a lot more of them than there were of the Nihilators, and soon Coronet Mons was surrounded by a vastly larger force, with little holographic flags hovering above each group to show what country they hailed from. The heroes and warriors in attendance automatically started searching for the flag of their homeland, trying to see where their nations' army would come out. "That will definitely get their attention," Victini said with a smirk. "Wouldn't surprise me if some of 'em start screaming 'CREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!' though they should really be yelling 'VICTINIIIIIIIIIII!' since I'm fairly certain I came up with that idea first and those guys at White Mightyena stole it from me."

"Why would any of them do that and what is she talking about?" Sasha asked in confusion while a few of the warriors in attendance who got Victini's joke started laughing.

"In Warmace 400,000,000, there's a guy called Uzarker E. Creed whose special rule 'Tactical Genius' allows any army containing him to make a scout or outflank move with one unit of their choice before the game, even tanks and giant robots. Players of the game have inflated him to a guy who's so good that he can hide overpowered superweapons behind a frigging lamppost or outhouse without anyone seeing them. Those who go up against him usually lament his tactical genius before screaming his name to the heavens," Leo explained.

"I see," said Sasha, not seeing at all.

"And they'll probably be screaming my name even louder once our second wave of reinforcements show up," Victini said as suddenly hundreds of new ships appeared above the Nihilator vessels hovering close to the ceiling and started attacking them, initiating a rather fantastically-rendered space battle that was so enthralling and well-done that many members of the audience forgot that they were supposed to be listening to the Victory Pokémon. "The arrival of the forces from Earth will be the signal for Darkrai and Cresselia's Lunar Armada to appear and engage the Nihilator forces in orbit, drawing the enemy's fire and keeping them from attacking the rest of us on the ground and allowing us to engage with the enemy forces surrounding Coronet Mons."

"At the same time," Nosferatina spoke up. "My vampire brethren concealed within the Nihilator base will break free and help my rebel friends begin the revolt. They shall sweep through the fortress, killing everything in their path and freeing every poor soul who has been captured or enslaved by the Nihilators, including the Teacher, leader of our resistance. We shall also do our best to either destroy or turn those massive cannons against the Nihilator forces outside the mountain to lessen the bombardment all of you will have to face."

"Nosferatina will be joining the fight alongside the rest of us," Victini added. "Her powers will be a great asset to us, especially since she's one of the few who's ever fought Oblivion's Shadow and not only lived but actually gave him a hard time. To make things easier for her and the other vampires on our side, when Darkrai shows up he'll create an artificial eclipse so that the Sun won't be a detriment to them. It's more reliable than a simple weather effect, and much harder to dispel." The lights in the room dimmed to simulate this effect. "And that's pretty much that. We show up, call our allies, signal the rebels, and launch our attack, forcing the Nihilators to fight on three fronts simultaneously. It's a simple plan, but like I said before, the more complex a strategy, the more likely it is to go wrong. As such, keeping things as straightforward as possible can only work to our benefit. There are, however, a few adversaries which might prove troublesome…"

Victini pointed to one of the many specks flying around the Nihilator airspace, and the image expanded to reveal the familiar figure of a Shadow Lugia. Lugia stiffened. "Beloved…"

"Never thought I'd see another one of those again…" George said grimly.

"Looks like it's time for round two," Briney said with a grin.

"I wish I'd gotten a chance to punch the last one in the face," Bruno lamented.

"He's right over there, you know," Looker reminded him.

"…Ah. Good point," Bruno said. "Maybe I should ask him later if he'd like to fight." Looker facepalmed.

"Jeez…she looks terrible…" Raikou said with a grimace.

"And to think, I once envied her look…" Suicune said grimly.

"Do…you think she remembers anything we…" Entei said uneasily.

"Let's hope not. If she does, I don't think Lugia will be quite so willing to forgive us anymore," Raikou said urgently, praying the sea god hadn't heard him. He had.

"Don't worry, Lugia. We'll save her just like we saved you," Ash promised his friend.

Lugia smiled gratefully. "I know, Ash. Thank you."

"As anyone who participated in or has seen the footage from the battle of Shimmering Desert will recall, a Shadow Lugia is an extremely powerful and destructive force," Victini said. "Even though this Lugia is weaker than her mate—no offense, big guy."

"None taken," Lugia said.

"Anyway, she's weaker than our boy over here, but she's still extremely powerful, and is therefore a priority target," Victini explained. "However, we are to purify her, not kill her. Lugia, you and Ash—or any other Aura user we might have who's skilled enough—need to engage her and perform an Aura Purge to restore her to her true self before she can use her powers to wipe out our guys."

"I believe Ash is currently the only one capable of purifying her," Lugia said. "While Tiny has advanced in his training a great deal, and we have a handful of other capable Aura-users on board, Ash has an…affinity for my kind which will make it easier for him to purify her."

Ash nodded. "I understand. We'll get your wife back together."

"However, as strong as Lugia's wife is, she's still only about number four on our list of biggest threats," Victini said as the Shadow Lugia image shrank back down to scale and she pointed at Maxthulhu, causing him to get larger instead, much to everyone's disgust, as they were now able to see what he looked like in much greater detail. "Maxthulhu is big and bad, emphasis on both. However, since he's pretty much not from this universe, I will defer to those who know him best to tell us what we're up against."

"This should be good," Leo said.

"Or very bad," Tenjin said with a sigh.

Darla stood up from her seat and stood in front of the hologram of her husband. "All right everyone, I won't sugarcoat it. Max, in our universe, is regarded as the most powerful and chaotic embodiment of destruction in existence."

"Second!" Outlaw, who'd finally managed to climb her way out of the lake, although she was still rather wet and trying to dry herself off, interjected. "Unicron is stronger! He devours entire planets!"

"Well, Max would too, if he didn't think planets tasted icky," Sam said.

"This is true," Outlaw admitted reluctantly.

"Aside from his grotesque appearance, incredible strength, and the horrifying abilities and attacks you'd expect from an Eldritch Abomination, in his current form Max has a number of formidable powers including precognition, teleportation, shapeshifting, mind-reading, ventriloquism, astral projection, size compression, destruction, and nutrition vision," Darla continued.

Everyone looked at her in confusion. "Nutrition vision?" Titania asked.

"He can see the nutritional information of whatever he looks at," Sam explained.

"…Wow. I can think of a lot of people who'd love to have that power," Cynthia said.

"Yes! Like me!" Wallace said.

"Tiny probably could've used something like that back when he was still eating stuff off the ground," Leo joked.

"I don't do that anymore!...much…" Tiny muttered.

Ash blinked. "What was that?"

"Nothing," Tiny said quickly.

"Engaging him will be extremely difficult, especially since his very presence has a habit of driving people insane," Darla said.

"Somehow I don't think that will be a problem for most of us," Tenjin deadpanned.

"Totally!" Leo agreed wholeheartedly.

"Fortunately, I brought our children. They have a psychic link to their father, and can use it to weaken him and make him vulnerable," Darla continued. "Max, much like Lugia's wife, is being controlled by the Nihilators. Our objective is to free him, not kill him. I designed a compound that can change Max back out of his monster form should he ever lose control and go on a rampage—which has happened more times than I care to admit—but due to the experimentation the Nihilators have done on him, he will need an extremely large dosage before reverting back to normal. The soldiers we brought with us from our world are armed with weapons that can inject Max with this compound, but in his current state all it will do is slow him down and weaken him a bit, which might still serve to our advantage. I can supply a limited number of extra weapons to anyone willing to fight him and serve as a distraction while Sam, Outlaw, a handful of our friends, and myself attempt to reach the Nihilator control module and destroy it so we can regain control over Max and either give him enough antidote to change him back or turn him against the Nihilators."

"I'm leaning towards the latter myself. Nobody takes my little buddy and turns him into a giant monster and puts him under mind control and gets away with it…" Sam snarled.

"Yeah, I can see the appeal in that," Tenjin said.

"I love a good Nihilator-smashing myself," Briney said.

"So, any volunteers willing to fight the giant horrific monster are free to do so. If not, I think we can leave it to those who know and…tolerate him best," Victini said.

"I wouldn't mind a crack at that thing," Bruno said.

"You would," George said with a roll of her eyes.

"However, even that thing's not our biggest threat," Victini continued as the Maxthulhu hologram shrank back down, much to everyone's relief. "Number two on our list of worries: Diabolus ex Nihilo, Lord Null's personal ship." The hologram of the mutilated space Wailord expanded to fill a good chunk of the room. "This baby is virtually indestructible and packed with enough firepower to obliterate a small planet, which means an army's fair game for it. Fortunately, we've come up with a way to beat it."

"Fly a small fighter through its defenses and fire a torpedo into a very small weak spot that will cause the whole thing to explode?" Po suggested. Several of the others started laughing. "What? I was serious," said the confused Pangoro.

"Amusing, but no, this isn't Space Wars. Our secret weapon is a wonder ship of our own…the Great Peeko!" Victini declared triumphantly as the Diabolus ex Nihilo shrank somewhat and the hologram of the vessel they'd traveled here on expanded.

Briney sniffed and wiped away a tear. "She's so beautiful, isn't she?"

"I've seen prettier," Leo said, smiling at Lily, who blushed.

"LIES!" Briney bellowed.

"The Peeko XII, for those who weren't aware, is actually an ancient Pokélantean prototype superweapon intended for use in their war with Lemewria," Victini said, indicating the Peeko XII, still nestled into the upper deck of the Great Peeko. "As such, they gave it all sorts of totally rad abilities, its awesome firepower and ability to warp-jump just scratching the surface of what it can do. It was also designed to assimilate and incorporate any technology or magitech it encountered into itself to make it stronger, which was how it was able to transform the Great Peeko into its current state," she said, causing a hologram of the ship's original form to materialize next to the golden vessel for comparison. "So, the plan is simple: fly the Great Peeko up to the Diabolus ex Nihilo and initiate the assimilation process. Since it's such a massive ship it'll take a lot longer to fully bring it under our control, and there's going to be some pretty heavy opposition, but with the right crew and support I'm confident we can pull it off and make Diabolus ex Nihilo ours." As she explained this, the hologram of the Great Peeko shrank back down to scale and flew up to Diabolus ex Nihilo. A wave of energy washed over the giant ship, and suddenly it was golden rather than white, with the emblem of Team Aurabolt rather than the Nihilators on either side.

"And I'll get a shiny new ship in the process!" Briney said eagerly.

"What's wrong with your current ship, which you just got a couple of hours ago?" Sasha asked.

"Nothing. But that one's bigger!" Briney said. The others sweatdropped.

"Um…what about the Wailord?" Tiny asked.

Ash blinked. "What about the Wailord?"

"The Wailord is the ship. What's the Peeko assimilating it going to do to it?" Tiny asked.

"That's…uh…hmm. Good question," Leo said with a frown.

Victini hesitated. "Uh…well…"

"Yes, what's going to happen to that majestic creature?" Wallace asked in concern.

"It's already in a lot of pain. Won't assimilating it hurt it even more?" Lily asked.

"Er…you see…" Victini said nervously.

"And I can't imagine having it start as Lord Null's ship and then be on our side will make much of a difference to it, since it will still be hurting all the same anyway," Dawn said.

"Maybe assimilating it will make it stop hurting?" Po asked.

"How would it do that?" Viper asked.

Po shrugged. "Magic?"

"The Peeko's powered as much by science as it is by magic," Tigress said.

"Magitech, then?" Po said.

"It…it'll…" Victini sighed unhappily. "It'll probably die, okay?"

Everyone stared at her incredulously. "What?!" Ash cried.

"BLASPHEMY!" Wallace screamed.

"I don't want to kill it!" Tiny protested.

"It's suffered enough already, there's no call for us to do that to it!" Lily agreed.

"I'm not going to be a Wailord-killer! Nosir! I'm not that kind of mon!" Briney said angrily. "Well, okay, I'd probably kill one if it attacked me—that's self-defense, perfectly excusable—but to do it like this?! Unacceptable!"

"Not to mention if we did assimilate and kill it we'd basically be flying around in a giant corpse," Leo pointed out. "Which is kinda gross."

"I am not certain we have a choice," Lugia said loudly before there could be anymore protests or outcries.

Ash looked at the sea god in surprise. "Lugia?!"

The Legendary smiled sadly at Ash. "That Wailord should have died a long time ago, Ash. Lord Null has kept it on life support for centuries just so it could serve him as a vessel. It is in constant agony, and there is no way to heal it."

Nosferatina nodded. "He's right. There's just too much machinery inside of it now, more than organics. Removing that would kill it just as surely as assimilation or just blowing it up."

"It wants to die," Bridget said. "It's wanted it for almost a thousand years."

"An ancient being, soaked in the blood of the innocent, forced to serve a horrible monster…wouldn't such a creature consider death a gift?" Victini asked softly.

"…I guess…" Ash said uncertainly.

"It leaves a bad taste in my mouth," Tenjin said unhappily.

"We talked Tiama into killing herself and left her kids without their mom just so we could get her Star Badge," Leo said somberly. "Is this really all that different?" Neither Ash nor Tenjin had a response to this.

"…There is no other way to save it?" Sasha asked after a moment.

Nosferatina shook her head. "Its body is too far gone. It's too big for me to vampirize, there's not really enough mind left to link to the network, and its soul is too massive to capture using the Nihilators' soul-catching technology."

"And it is suffering. You are certain of this?" Lily asked.

"Without a doubt," Raikou said glumly.

"I could hear it singing sometimes, you know…" Suicune said quietly. "One of the only things left that it could do by itself. It was so sad…all it wanted was the hurting to stop."

"And we found it funny," Entei said grimly.

Briney sighed. "…Very well. Then if there's no other way…as a mon of the sea, it's my duty to kill it."

"What happened to you not wanting to be a Wailord-killer?" Michael asked.

"You come across a Wailord swimming in its pod with its friends and family, you leave it be. That's common courtesy," Briney said gruffly. "You find one beached on the shore, dried out and dying, and you can't get it back into the water…then…well…a mon has to do what a mon has to do."

"I took a picture of that once, actually," Frank commented. "Made the headlines." Everyone glared at him. "…I felt bad about it later…"

"That is one of the services Sharpedo provide in my ocean," Wallace said sadly. "It is their purpose to end distress. There is a reason that, when one of our citizens is too old or sick and there is nothing that can be done, they swim out to the feeding grounds and…well…"

"…I don't like it," Ash said finally, a sentiment that many in the room seemed to echo. "But sometimes ending a life is the kindest thing you can do. All right. We'll do it. But we won't enjoy it."

"Well…maybe a little enjoyment…it does look like it'll be a very nice ship…" Briney said.

"Briney!" Boa cried.

"What? I doubt the Wailord would want us to get all weepy-faced about its death! And besides, we'll be putting its remains to good use: defeating the bastards who did that to it in the first place!" Briney said.

Victini rolled his eyes as the holograms returned to their original size. "Moving on…according to our latest intel, Arackaiser's currently in command of the Diabolus ex Nihilo," the Legendary said as a new hologram of a familiar Sunflora in an unfamiliar getup appeared next to the giant battleship. "He's supposed to have a few new 'projects' he's been dying to try out on a certain Squirtle, so be careful up there, Leo."

"Oh, I intend to," Leo said, narrowing his eyes at his nemesis. "Arackaiser, my old rival, this shall be our final battle…"

"Why's he wearing that outfit and mask?" Ash wondered.

"Probably to make himself look more like a supervillain," Lily said.

"He doesn't need it," Michael said angrily. "With or without it, he'll always look like the monster who helped Tarantulas do horrible things to my tribe."

"Even with the Diabolus ex Nihilo dealt with, we still have one last major threat to worry about: the Big Bad himself, Lord Null," Victini continued.

The hologram of Coronet Mons vanished and was replaced by a massive projection of Lord Null, towering to the ceiling. Everyone recoiled in alarm, the sheer malevolence and sense of power radiating from the image overwhelming. Ash clenched his fists, his Aura simmering around him. Rage was seething inside of him, but he'd known it was coming, and so was able to keep it under control…

Even though, whenever he blinked his eyes, he could see her dying in his arms as the bastard loomed over him, gloating about what he'd just done. "Null…" he snarled.

"Huh. This actually makes things easier," Misty said coldly as she stared at the hologram.

"How so?" Ash growled.

"Him looking like that's going to make it much easier for you to use all your anger and all your power, isn't it?" Misty asked.

Ash narrowed his eyes. "Yes, it is."

"And then your heart shall fall into shadow…and all will perish by your hands." Misty shuddered.

"Yeah…that's definitely the Big Bad," Frank muttered, snapping a picture.

Michael's eyes widened. "That's Null?! He's tremendous!"

"He's not actually that big…I think…" Boa said uncertainly.

"Yeah, now that's final boss material for sure," Leo commented. He frowned. "Wonder what his extra forms are."

"Extra forms?" Sasha asked.

"Well, yeah, no final boss worth their salt has only one form!" Leo said.

Tracey nodded in agreement. "That's right, he has to have at least one or two extra ones, with additional power multipliers every time!" Sasha rolled her eyes.

"He looks different from how he appeared in Ash's memories," Dawn commented.

"Well, it's been a thousand years…I suppose he could have changed his outfit a little," Tiny said.

Tenjin frowned. "That, and…Ash's memories might not be completely…reliable…"

"So, this, then…is the destroyer of the world of man…" Oak murmured.

Lugia shuddered. "The last time I saw him like this, he killed me."

"Us too…that was not a fun experience," Raikou said with a grimace.

"And to think, we were working for him all along…we had no idea…" Entei said, shaking his head angrily.

"So that's our true enemy, huh?" Lance said.

"Looks like a real piece of work," Steven said.

"I'm gonna punch him in the face!" Bruno said.

"I think you'd break your arm," George said.

"It'd be worth it," Bruno asserted.

"How dare he look eviler than my master!" Muramasa snarled.

"Interesting…I wouldn't have thought the closest thing we have to the Ruler of Evil made flesh would wear white, especially given the other Nihilators' liking for black," Alder commented.

"The Ruler of Evil actually favored the color white back during its reign. It saw it as a representation of the purity of its purpose…and a mockery of Arceus' Light," Cynthia said, glowering at the armored colossus.

"Well, at least he looks stylish, except for those ghastly wounds on his right arm," Wallace said.

"Hey yeah, what's with those?" Lucy asked.

"They look almost…self-inflicted," said the disturbed Frank.

"For some reason, now I'm thinking of Apollomon," Tracey commented.

"Ooh, yeah! Me too!" Po and Leo said at once, causing them to look at each other and burst into laughter.

"Who now?" Glacia asked.

"Oh great…she asked…" Tenjin groaned as the three nerds perked up.

"Why did she ask?" Mantis asked wearily.

"In Digimon Fusion, the last and most powerful of the evil Lord Bagra's Seven Death Generals was Apollomon the Sun-Wheel! But unlike the other Generals, he was actually a good guy who was forced into becoming a bad guy and had to punish his subjects to pretend he was evil while biding his time for the heroes to reach his country so that he could join forces with them against Bagra!" Leo said.

"Whenever he had to harm his people, he mutilated his left arm out of penance," Tracey said. "Truly a noble mon."

"But what he didn't know was that Bagramon had implanted an eeeeevil program into him called 'Whispered' which was like a split personality for Apollomon and reported all of Apollomon's treasonous acts, took over Apollomon's body at times to kill people without him remembering it, and eventually usurped control of their shared body for good, and the heroes had to kill him. I thought it was really sad," Po lamented.

"But he was revived for the finale, so all's good," Leo said cheerfully.

"…That's very nice, except for the fact that it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT'S GOING ON NOW," Outlaw bellowed.

"Actually, it kind of does," Victini said.

Nosferatina nodded. "Only inverted. Lord Null is trying to keep his good half, Mewtwo, from regaining control of his body, and is mutilating his right arm to try and keep him suppressed." She frowned. "And hopefully we don't have to kill him…I don't think he'll be revived for the 'finale' if he is."

"…We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Ash said quietly.

"You can't save him, Ash. You're either going to have to kill him…or die yourself," Misty said. "I know which one I'm hoping for."

"As do I."

Victini looked up at Null, a guilty expression crossing her face. This is at least partially my fault. If I hadn't trusted those stupid birds…if I had made it to the valley in time…maybe none of this would have happened. Shaking herself out of her reverie, she said, "Lord Null presents the single greatest threat to our invasion plans. He's pretty much the strongest Pokémon alive and so powerful that he can destroy an entire planet by himself. Even our entire giant united army will probably not be enough to defeat him, even if we attacked him all at once. We might be able to give him some trouble, but I'm fairly certain he'd still be able to beat us, all by himself."

Lugia nodded soberly. "A thousand years ago, we legendaries—as many as could be mustered, which was a great number of us—all attacked Null in unison. He didn't even break a sweat defeating us, and he has probably grown even stronger in the centuries since that dark day."

"But didn't you guys already defeat Mewtwo once? Back when you…well…" Tiny trailed off uneasily.

"We caught him by surprise. That's pretty much all there is to it," Raikou said with a grimace.

"And he regenerated even stronger than he was after we thought we'd killed him. Something like that won't work again," Suicune said.

"He is not a foe to be underestimated," Entei said gravely.

"If he's so strong, then why's he even got so many troops? Why bother with them when he could do everything himself?" Annabel asked.

"Delegation," Looker said.

Lucy (the Aipom, not the Seviper) nodded. "Yeah. It's more efficient to give certain tasks to underlings to free your hands for more personal matters. Plus, the more minions he has, the more long-term suffering and misery he can cause, which is supposed to be part of his master plan, right?"

"And if you have a nearly endless supply of minions, you can simply throw them at an annoyance until it's taken care of, so that you can save your strength for the real challenges," Muramasa said.

"If he is truly that powerful…then how are we to defeat him?" Brandon asked with a frown.

"That is where Ash comes in," Victini said, looking to the Lucario, a somewhat apologetic look on her face. "He's the Chosen One, and a skilled Aura-user. Plus, he's recently picked up a special trinket that should boost his powers to even greater levels, according to our emissaries from the Moon."

Ciela nodded. "That is correct. The power of the Mega Stone will allow Ash to unlock more of his true potential and give him the strength he needs to fight Null."

"So the plan is basically for me to use the power of the Mega Stone to fight him?" Ash asked.

Victini nodded. "He's rather fixated on you. If you keep him occupied, it'll make it easier for everyone else to take care of his army, after which we can come and help you against him. By that point, he should be weaker, making it easier for us to fight him…and for you to do what is necessary."

"Purifying him," Ash said.

"That's the idea, yes," Victini said.

Frank blinked. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, let me get this straight. Lord Null's got a split personality thing going on? And our big plan is to redeem him, not kill him?"

"Pretty much, yeah," Lance said.

"…And none of you look surprised," the Luxio noted. "Am I the only one who didn't know about this ahead of time?" Pretty much everyone in the room nodded.

"I didn't, actually, but I don't really care so long as I get to punch something in the face," Bruno confessed.

"And I'm just here to get paid," George added.

"Huh," said Frank. He frowned. "And I'm guessing this is one of those things I'm not supposed to write up in my article."

"We would prefer if you didn't," Nosferatina said.

"And by 'prefer' we mean 'no, you can't,'" Victini said. "The official story's going to be that the entity that we call Lord Null was possessing Mewtwo's body and that Ash was able to drive him out with his Aura powers. Which isn't that far from the truth, really."

"Except it's not, in fact, the truth," Frank said.

Victini shrugged. "Eh. It's close enough for our purposes." Frank scowled but reluctantly acquiesced.

"What if Ash can't purify him?" Darla asked.

Ash grit his teeth. "I'm going to purify him."

"I don't doubt it. But shouldn't we consider other options, just in case you fail?" the human from another world asked.

"I-" Ash started. He took a deep breath, calmed himself, and said, "If…if I really can't purify him, then…then I'll do what has to be done."

"Will you, Ash? Will you really?" Misty taunted.

"We shall see."

"I do not mean to disparage you, Chosen One, but…destined hero of legend or not, what makes you think you can defeat someone that even most of the gods working together could not stop?" Tucker asked.

"It wouldn't be the first time I've taken down an opponent that even the Legendaries couldn't," Ash said, causing the deities in the room to look embarrassed. "So I've got precedent going for me, as well as destiny. Then there's this new Mega Stone thing, which I'm assured will help me significantly even the odds between us."

"And more than that, he won't be fighting alone," Tenjin said determinedly.

Lily nodded in agreement. "Yes. I'm not sure if all of us will be able to assist him—it's a big battlefield, after all, and our skills may be needed in many places at once—but those of us who can help him will."

"It may be arrogant to say that we can succeed where so many could not…but then again, we have a habit of doing the impossible, so I don't think it's that much of a stretch," Dawn said.

"We don't just do the impossible…we go beyond the impossible! That's how Team Aurabolt rolls!" Leo declared.

"I shall give as much assistance as I can as well," Nosferatina said. "After all, I have a vested interest in seeing Null purified."

"You shall not lack aid from those who are capable of giving it," Lugia assured Ash. "After all, Ash, just because you are the Chosen One-"

"Doesn't mean I always have to do everything myself. I know. That's what being on a team's all about, right?" Ash said with a smile.

"By the way…I thought Daddy was supposed to be purifying Lugia's wife. But now he's supposed to be focusing totally on fighting Null? How's he supposed to do both?" a confused Tiny asked.

"It's a matter of priorities, and whichever we run into first, I think," Ash said. "If I encounter Lugia's wife, I'll purify her. I've become adept enough by now to do it very quickly, after which I can continue going after Null. If I run into Null first, though…well, then I'll focus all my efforts on him."

"As for my wife…we'll have to subdue her through force if Ash is unavailable, and keep her occupied until she can be purified, possibly after the battle," Lugia explained.

"I will save her," Ash assured Lugia.

"I know you will, Ash. But defeating Null takes precedence. As much as I wish to be reunited with my family, I understand that this is more important," Lugia said solemnly.

"Speaking of your family, my friends know where Silver is, and will be able to break him out soon after the fighting starts," Nosferatina assured Lugia.

The sea god smiled gratefully. "I am happy to hear that, Nosferatina. Thank you."

"She's a lot nicer than the vampires I remember fighting back in the day," Raikou commented.

"Let's hope she stays that way…" Suicune said skeptically.

"All right," Victni said as the hologram of Null vanished and the one of Coronet Mons reappeared. "I think that's just about everything-"

"Actually, I have a question," Nolan said, raising his hand.

"Yes, Nolan?" Victini asked.

"What exactly are the rest of us supposed to be doing while all this is going on?" Nolan asked.

Victini blinked. "The rest…oh! Oh, I see. My apologies, I hadn't realized that wasn't clear. All of you are free to do whatever you wish. You can stay on the Great Peeko, or you can disembark once we've opened the portals back to Earth so you can join up with the armies from your home countries and fight the Nihilators alongside them."

"Joining up with our forces might be for the best…what good exactly would we be on the Peeko, anyway? We aren't technically crew. We're fighters, I don't think there's much we could contribute to the running of the ship," Lune said.

"Not necessarily. While any of you who wish to leave the ship to join your brethren-in-arms are free to do so, I do have a few ideas for things we could use you for," Victini said as the Great Peeko hologram expanded again. "As any of you who've studied the battle of Shimmering Desert may recall, several Nihilator battleships were captured through the innovative strategy of crashing magical train cars into them at high speeds and loading a computer virus developed by Mister DeKappa into their mainframes, which ultimately led to the construction of the Great Peeko. I see no reason we can't utilize a similar strategy again."

"But won't the Nihilators have installed stronger firewalls to keep another virus from infiltrating their systems?" Looker asked.

"They have," Nosferatina said. "They've also inserted several corrupted Porygons into their computers to make them even more difficult to hack, making our own efforts to utilize their systems more difficult, even with one or two of the Porygons on our side."

"Ha! Their firewalls may be strong, but thanks to my sunglasses, I can hack into and take control of any machine I want!" Leo bragged. "…Well, within reason, anyway."

"Bah! It's probably nothing compared to Cybertronian system security," Outlaw bragged. She frowned. "Unfortunately, the only computer experts I have with me are a little…obsolete…"

"You'd have thought that granting the Computer Obsolescence Prevention Society Sparks and turning them into Decepticons would have been a significant upgrade…and yet they're still apparently far behind most Cybertronians. Poor things," Sam commented.

"The Great Peeko can, as I've mentioned before, assimilate any tech it contacts into itself," Victini reminded them. "This ability extends to its shuttles as well."

"It has shuttles?" Tigress asked in surprise.

"Well, duh, what super-awesome spaceship wouldn't have shuttles for away missions and stuff like that?" Po said, rolling his eyes.

"You mean the missions where inevitably some guy wearing a red shirt gets killed horribly and is promptly forgotten?" Monkey asked.

"Yep!" Po said.

"Fortunately, under Leo's advisement I forbade everyone in the crew from wearing a red shirt, so we should be able to avoid that problem," Briney said.

"I still can't believe you did that…" Tenjin grumbled.

"He was very persuasive," Briney said.

"AS I WAS SAYING," Victini yelled loudly. "The Peeko's shuttles also have the assimilation power. While the Great Peeko attacks the Diabolus ex Nihilo, I had the idea for some of you to take off in the shuttles and ram them into the biggest and baddest Nihilator ships so we could take control of them and turn them against their own kind."

"That seems rather counterintuitive," Spenser said.

"Which is precisely why it will work!" Victini said with a grin, causing the Claydol to sweatdrop.

"But I don't think most of us are exactly certified to fly a space shuttle," Greta protested.

"That's what auto-pilot is for," Victini said dismissively. "Anyone who feels like volunteering for this assignment, feel free to speak to me after this strategy briefing. Now, are there any other questions?"

"I have one, actually," Bruno said. "Are we taking prisoners?"

"If any surrender, let them live," Victini said. "If a Nihilator's willing to give up, there's a chance he or she might be capable of becoming a good guy if they undergo purification. Otherwise, don't feel any obligation to hold back, seeing as the majority of them are each guilty of a staggering number of crimes against Pokemonity and would probably receive the death sentence anyway if put on trial, seeing as how Null intentionally tried to recruit the scum of the Earth for his organization."

Bruno grinned. "Oh, I never had any intention of holding back. Just wanted to make sure."

"I have a question as well," Looker said. "Once we've defeated the Nihilators…what then?"

"We go home, obviously," Alder said.

Looker shook his head. "That's not what I mean. The final battle between good and evil isn't the end of the matter, even if that's where most stories end. Will this alliance of nations collapse once the threat we've gathered to fight is no more? What will we do with all the technology and prisoners we will recover, and how will the world be changed by the new advancements we'll surely gain from them? Who will be allowed control of the assimilated Diabolus ex Nihilo and its incredible power? What will be done with Lord Null once he is 'redeemed,' if such a thing is truly possible? What place will this new breed of vampires have in our world? What is to be done with the Martians, since most of their world is empty and their civilization in ruins? What are we going to do about the Door to the Abyss, whose seal is gradually decaying even without the Star Badges being used to open it, and what of the Badges themselves? And what will be the ultimate fate of Pokemon Square, which is under great scrutiny from both the Nihilators and the nations of the world?"

"…That's something I've been wondering myself…" Ash said, fidgeting uncertainly. What are we going to do with Mewtwo, anyway? Only a handful of people outside this room know the truth about Null. Is Mewtwo going to have to go to prison? Can we bring him home, give him a room? Would that even work?

And can I actually go home again, once all is said and done?

"Not me. That ship's going to be mine, nothing to it," Briney said.

"I don't think a lot of people are going to be comfortable with letting you keep a ship powerful enough to destroy entire countries," Boa said.

"That's their problem. They don't like it, I can just blow them up," Briney said.

Boa sighed and rubbed her forehead. "That's kind of the problem…"

Victini sighed. "Those are all good questions. Unfortunately, I don't have answers for them. I'm a warrior, not a politician. I leave those sorts of things to my underlings. All I know how to do is to fight whatever enemy is in front of me. It's what I'm best at. Beyond that, well…" She shrugged. "You're right in thinking that the world will be a very different place after this battle is over. I don't know what any of us will do in that world, or if we're going to be fighting each other as our respective countries start squabbling over the new power that we'll no doubt obtain from this battle, or if we'll enter some kind of new golden age of unity or something like that…but for now, we're working together to fight a great evil. Whatever happens tomorrow, that'll have to be enough for now."

"…I suppose so," Looker said.

"As for the vampires…my master would be perfectly willing to extend an invitation to your kind to live with us in Necrontyr, Queen Nosferatina," Muramasa said innocently.

"I wouldn't take that offer, if I were you," Glacia warned Nosferatina.

"Especially since I have a better one. Fichina has long been a refuge for creatures of great magic that don't quite…belong elsewhere. My mother is willing to offer sanctuary for you and your kind and help you set up a kingdom of your own within our borders," Boa said.

"Or she could come to live with us," Titania said, shooting Boa an annoyed glance. "Fichina is not the only mystical kingdom in the world, after all, nor does it necessarily hold the monopoly on creatures of great magic."

"That is a very gracious offer, both of you. I shall give it a great deal of consideration," Nosferatina said.

Ash frowned in alarm. "Wait…aren't you coming back to Pokemon Square with us once this is all over?"

Nosferatina gave Ash an apologetic look. "I'd love to, Ash, but…I don't think Pokemon Square is going to be big enough for me and all my vampire kin. We might set up shop somewhere in Kanjohenn, though. I already have ideas for a castle…"

"…I see," Ash said uncertainly. There had been a small part of him that had hoped that somehow everything might go back to normal once everything was over. He was starting to realize that was completely impossible.

"As for the Door," Lugia said. "The Star Badges can be used to renew the seal, as well as break it. Once we retrieve the last few from Lord Null, we can use them to make sure the Door will not open anytime soon."

"And as for the Badges themselves, they can join the others in Fantina's private vault," Lily said. "There's no worry of anything happening to them in there."

"Yeah, aside from the fact that the world's most powerful sorceress will be in possession of most of the keys necessary to open the gates of Hell," Alder pointed out.

"Fantina would never-" Lily protested, enraged.

"Doesn't matter that she wouldn't. One person having that kind of power is a very scary thought. Lots of people are already afraid of Fichina because of the incredible magic they can do. Knowing they could end the world if they wanted to…that's the sort of thing that can trigger wars," Alder said gravely. Lily bit her lip unhappily, reluctantly admitting that he might have a point.

"Maybe we could scatter the Star Badges around the world again?" Tiny suggested. "It seemed to work the last time…"

"Except that the Nihilators were still able to retrieve a bunch," Leo said. "But…hmm. That's a good point. Which is better, to keep them all locked up in a single place where nobody can reach them…except if someone COULD get there, they'd get all of them in one fell swoop…or scatter them around the globe and force anyone who might need them, good or bad, to go on a treasure hunt to find them?"

"What about an alternative? Locking up most of them, but hiding one or two elsewhere, to ensure nobody has a complete set?" Sasha suggested.

"That could work too," Leo agreed. "And hey, the map that leads to them only works for really good people, so-"

"The Nihilators didn't need the map to find all of the Badges," Boa pointed out. "And they were going to just force Nosferatina to read it for them, weren't they?"

"That's right, they were," Nosferatina said.

"Oh. Right," Leo said with a sigh. "This is hard…"

"Maybe we should just destroy them and be done with it," Dawn said.

"They can't be destroyed," Michael pointed out. "And besides, what if they're needed again in the future? The seal on the Door might weaken again, after all."

Tenjin sighed. "Another thing we're going to have to leave up to the politicians, I suppose."

Briney snorted. "Yes, trusting politicians with a world-destroying artifact. No way that can possibly backfire." He was already thinking of a possible alternative. The Peeko could travel to places it would be extremely difficult for most others to reach. To the stars, even, and it might be able to go even further once it assimilated the Diabolus. Perhaps the Star Badges could be hidden beyond the reach of anyone on Earth…and only those worthy of captaining his vessel would ever be able to find them again…

"You also need not worry about the Martians," Ciela said. "Our worlds have been allies for a long time. We shall help the Martian people to rebuild once all is done." The Elgyems and Beheeyems in the room looked at her gratefully.

"So don't any of you think about stealing any Martian tech or claiming land without permission," Bridget warned everyone. "This planet belongs to the Martians, and we intend to keep it that way."

"Any assistance you might be able to lend us in rebuilding the Martian civilization would be most welcome, though," Nosferatina added.

"The Arcean Order is already willing to pledge their support in restoring Mars to its former glory," Cynthia said. "Unlike some countries or international organizations, after providing Pokemonitarian support we actually make sure the inhabitants are capable of standing on their own feet before leaving, rather than abandoning them to their own devices and leaving them to fall into ruin once more."

The Frontier Brains nodded in agreement. When establishing the New Frontier, they'd had to do nearly everything by themselves. Few if any countries were willing to support them, and most of those that had had only provided minimal aid before leaving. The Arcean Order had not, however, which was something they'd be eternally grateful for. "We will help as well," Spenser said. "We know what it is like to have to rebuild a land from nothing."

"I'm sure my mother will be happy to give assistance to Mars," Boa said.

"As would our mother," Invidiana said quickly, not to be outdone.

"I'm not sure how much Icearctica can provide, but if we can help, we will," Glacia promised.

"I'm sure my master can be persuaded to give his aid," Muramasa said, privately thinking about how pleased his lord would be to get his hands on Martian corpses.

"And so will-" Wallace started.

"Okay, okay, we get the picture!" Victini snapped in annoyance. "Mars is not going to lack a helping hand. Fine. Wonderful. That all can wait until after we fight the ginormous final battle?" After there were a few muttered agreements, she nodded. "Good. If there are no further questions-" A few hands went up, which she completely ignored. "I hereby call this strategy planning session to an end. We begin our attack in one hour, so make whatever preparations you feel are necessary and give your troops the information they need to know to carry out the plan, because this is the big one, ladies and gentlemen. Anyone who'd like to volunteer for shuttle duty, stay behind and we can talk about it."

"In addition, my lord and lady have managed to locate a small number of Mega Stones while we were talking, and we should have them in short order," Ciela said.

"My sister and I will look over a list of the crew to find candidates we feel worthy of their power. Once we've made our picks, we'll let you know, and you can come and get them from us, as well as receive a quick primer in how to use them," Bridget said.

"Did you find some Smearglenite?!" Tracey asked hopefully.

"I'm fairly certain that doesn't actually exist," Ciela said apologetically.

"Oh," Tracey said in disappointment.

"What about-" Tiny started.

"All we have right now are Garchompite, Kangaskhanite, Venusarite, Charizardite Y, Blastoisinite, Blazikenite, Mawilite, Absolite, Lucarionite, and Ampharosite," Bridget said in exasperation.

"Oh," Tiny said in disappointment.

"Charizardite 'Y?'" Michael asked.

"There's two types of Mega Stones for Charizards, X and Y. I don't know why," Bridget said with a shrug.

"So Charizard get two possible Mega Evolutions? That doesn't seem very fair," Boa said.

"That's just how it is, I suppose," Ciela said apologetically.

"Blastoisite? Aw mon! If only I were evolved, I could totally use that!" Leo complained.

"You can turn into a Masked Rider. Isn't that enough?!" Tenjin asked.

"No," Leo said. "After all, all the best Masked Riders have stronger forms!"

"I might have an idea about that, actually," Lily said.

Cynthia perked up. "Garchompite? I'm a Garchomp."

"And I'm a Mawile!" Invidiana said eagerly.

"You two are on the list for qualified candidates, yes," Ciela said.

"I thought you told us we wouldn't receive these new Stones until Darkrai or Cresselia made it here for the battle," Dawn said.

"They found the Stones faster than they expected. And don't worry about how they're going to get them to us, they have their…ways…" Bridget said vaguely.

"Ah," Dawn said.

"We will make our decisions on who shall receive the power of the Mega Stones shortly. Until then, I suggest all of you rest up and prepare for the battle. It's going to be a big one," Ciela said.

"That's my line…" Victini grumbled.

As the meeting ended, Pokemon filed out of the room or stayed behind to talk to Victini, either going to prepare for the coming fight or lost in thought about just what they were getting into. Team Aurabolt was no different, excusing themselves from each other so they could go off in private or groups so they could deal with what was to happen in their own way. This was going to be the biggest conflict many of them had ever taken part in. There was a good chance not all of them would make it out of it alive.

And one way or another, once the dust had settled, the world would be a very different place.

A little later…

"You know, Lily," Leo said as he and Lily looked out at the Martian cityscape of Baroom from one of the many observation decks on the exterior of the Citadel of Life. "For years I've read stories and played all sorts of games about Mars and what might live there."

"And let me guess, the real thing exceeds your wildest expectations?" Lily asked.

"Actually, no, I thought there'd be more crystal spires instead of so many red-rock buildings and a lot more people, and more varied ones than just Elgyem and Beheeyem at that," Leo said. "Still, I'm setting foot on an alien planet, so I'm hardly one to complain." He smiled. "Back in Turtle Town, growing up under Tiama's shadow, I always dreamed of going to other lands, and even other worlds. But…there was a part of me that didn't really think that would ever happen, that it was just a fantasy of a desperate child trying to escape the reality of his life, just as many of us were."

"I'm glad it wasn't a fantasy," Lily said, nuzzling up to him.

"So am I," Leo said.

They kissed, briefly, and then resumed looking at the view. "You are not the only one who fantasized of seeing other worlds to try and forget your miserable life," Lily said after a moment. "For centuries B has whispered in my head of places beyond my Mother's iceberg, realms where magic flows as freely as water, places made of pure sound where the slightest misstep or sour note could bring the whole thing crashing down, worlds of light and dark and things even more incomprehensible, countries even more fantastic and wonderful than Fichina…worlds where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities of song…lands where sorrow and pain are completely unknown, and creatures like my Mother simply could not exist."

"I think lots of people dream about places like that," Leo said softly.

"But B told me they exist…though for the longest time, I wasn't sure I believed her, believed that there could ever be a world beyond Mother's control." Lily smiled. "I'm glad I was wrong. While this place is a far cry from even the least spectacular realm B has told me about, it is, as you said, an alien world…and it's wonderful to gaze upon, especially with the mon I love by my side."

"Yeah," Leo said.

They kissed again, and then continued looking at the view. After a while, the Squirtle said, "Wish we could have seen this place in its heyday, before Oblivion's Shadow fucked everything up."

"Perhaps we can help rebuild the planet. I'm sure Fantina would be happy to lend a hand. And I am not without my own resources now that I am head of the Yukihimi House," Lily said.

Leo nodded slowly. "Yeah…it'd be good to put our super-awesome powers to work on something other than fighting bad guys. One of my favorite moments from Masked Rider OOO was in a light novel taking place after the series, where Ayji returned to a country in Afrikku that had been torn apart by war while he was passing through during his world travels long before he became a Rider, and not only used his powers to beat up the bastards who ruined the country, but also fixed it, rebuilding and restoring the land to a place of beauty. I liked that. Far too many comics and shows have superheroes using their powers for nothing but saving the world from bad guys, which is all well and good, but they rarely use them to solve other problems. I've always thought that was such a freaking waste. You have that kind of power, you should use it to help people, really make the world a better place instead of just using it to trounce the villain of the week."

Lily nodded. "I want to be more like Fantina, and nothing like my mother…a sorceress who uses her magic to benefit all the peoples of the world, rather than just myself."

"She's everything you want to be, huh?" Leo asked with a grin.

"She's the mother I wish I had, rather than my real mother," Lily said soberly. She smiled again. "The only thing I think I'd do differently from her, though, is take only one husband, rather than sleeping around so much—not that I fault her for that, since it seems to give her happiness. My heart, such as it were, beats for only one mon. My one and only."

"Whoever that mon is, he's the luckiest mon in the world," Leo said.

"Yes," Lily agreed. "He is."

Once again, they kissed. "You know," Leo pointed out after they parted for breath again. "Fantina is probably gonna settle down with Mirami's father once this is over, given he is Master Yamiri, who's a totally cool guy and definitely worthy of her. Wonder how he's doing…"

"I know," Lily said. "But she's had many other partners before him, and many since. I don't want that. I want you, and only you, from now until the end of time."

"Well, neither of us is going anywhere," Leo said. "Well, unless…"

"Unless one of us dies in the next battle," Lily said.

"Er. Yeah. And, uh, you're kind of more likely to bite it than me, unfortunately…" Leo said uncomfortably. "I've got the resurrective immortality thing, you don't…plus, you're the girlfriend of a main hero, and those have a bad habit of being stuffed in fridges."

"Then it's a good thing I have the power of fire, so I can just burn my way out," Lily said.

"Heh. Yeah, you do at that," Leo agreed with a chuckle. There was a pause, and then he said, "Lily, do you want to know why I want to live forever so bad?"

"Because you don't want to die?" Lily said dryly.

"Heh, cute. Okay, I have lots of reasons to want to live forever, not the least of which is so I'll be able to stick with you for good, but there's another reason, one I don't think I've told you or anyone else," Leo said.

Lily cocked her head, intrigued. "I'm listening."

Leo leaned on the railing of the deck, looking out at the city, at the Martians and saucers mobilizing for war. "I'm a genius, Lily. That's not just bragging, no matter what the others say, we both know it's true. I can make things. Incredible things. Things that have come in handy so many times over the course of our adventure…" He turned to look at her. "But that's not all I'm capable of making. I know it's not. I have ideas, Lily. Plans. Inventions. Things that can revolutionize the world. Things the world badly needs. Don't get me wrong, Lily, I love Earth…but it's got problems, and Turtle Town's not the only place that's probably been terrorized for a while and nobody could do anything about it, just like you're not the only one with a horribly abusive parent. Almost all of Ash, Sasha, and Tenjin's continent was nearly overrun by barbarians, for Shaymin's sake, and nobody from other countries seemed inclined to lift a finger to help until now. The world could be worse, but it could be better. I don't know how to fix the world, not completely…but I have lots of ideas on how to start. The biggest problem is time…and with all of eternity stretching out before me, I'll have more than enough of that to fix everything that's wrong with the world."

Lily stared at her husband, eyes shimmering with awe and love. After a moment, she said, "You will not have to do it alone, Leo."

Leo chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, I know. With my science and your magic, we can do just about anything, can't we?"

"Yes," Lily agreed. "We can." She paused, and then said, "There's something I want to give you."

Leo raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

Lily nodded. "Yes. You have given me so much, Leo…love, happiness, a new life…and now I'd like to give you something in return."

"You've already given me plenty in return, babe," Leo said with a smirk.

Lily flushed. "Yes, but…well…"

Leo's eyes widened. "Wait…don't tell me you're pregnant?!"

"Wh-what?! No!" Lily said in surprise.

"Oh. Darn," Leo said in disappointment.

"That's…that's not what I…oh, I'm sorry, Leo, I'd forgotten how much you wanted-" Lily said in concern.

"It's okay," Leo said, waving her off. "So. What exactly do you want to give me?"

"Something you gave me a while back, which I'd like to return…with interest," Lily said, reaching into her hat and taking out…a card?

Leo's eyes widened in amazement. "Wait a minute…is that…"

"The very first gift you ever gave me, other than your friendship? Yes, it is," Lily said with a smile.

Leo shook his head in amazement. "Oh, wow…I'd nearly forgotten about that until this very second…you kept it all this time?"

"Of course I did. It was the first thing I'd ever received from anyone other than my Mother. Well, aside from my badge and scarf, anyway," Lily said.

Leo grinned goofily. "Oh mon…I remember when I gave that to you now, as clearly as if it were a few weeks ago, which it was…"

A few weeks ago…

Team Aurabolt and their newest member, Lily, were a few days out from Twilight Town and two-thirds of the way back to Treasure Town to regroup with Professor Oak at Sharpedo Cape and plan out the next leg of their journey to Zero Isle. Night had fallen, and the heroes had set up camp for the evening. Lily had set up wards around the perimeter of their campsite in addition to the proximity sensors Leo usually deployed whenever they stopped for the night while on the road, so nobody needed to bother staying up late or taking watch, meaning everyone could get a good night's sleep.

A sleep which was interrupted for Leo DeKappa when he found himself woken up by a pressing biological imperative. "Oh mon, I should've known better than to drink so much diet soda before bed," he muttered to himself as he staggered out of his tent, quickly donning his shades and using the night-vision feature so he could see his way through the near-absolute darkness of the forest outside, and rushed over to a bush to relieve himself. "Aaaaahhhhh…ohhhh…oh mon…yeah, that's better," he said once his business was concluded. "Okay, back to bed. Hope I can pick up that dream where I had hair…"

He started back towards his tent…and paused. A thin shaft of moonlight passing through the overgrown canopy above the campsite illuminated a figure hovering at the edge of the firepit where they'd cooked their dinner and warmed themselves up while telling stories before bedtime. The pointy-topped silhouette the moonlight cast told Leo at once who the other Pokemon apparently unable to sleep was. "Had to go to the bathroom, too, huh?" Leo asked as he came over. Wait, did Ghosts even have to go to the bathroom? He'd have to remember to look that up later.

Lily started. "Ack! L-Leo?! What are you doing up?!"

"Had to do number one. Uh, you didn't see me, did you?" Leo asked in concern.

"What? Oh, uh, no. No, not at all," the pointy-hatted Misdreavus said, blushing.

"Oh. Good," Leo said. There was an awkward pause, and then he asked, "So, uh, what are you doing up? Did you need to go too, or…"

"I had a nightmare," Lily said tersely.

"Oh," Leo said. "…Your mom?"

"Yes," Lily said.

Leo fidgeted. "Do, uh, you want to talk about it?"

"Not really, no," Lily said curtly. She flinched when she saw the look of hurt on Leo's face. "I…I'm sorry, Leo. But…there is much my mother did to me that I…I would rather not burden you with."

"We're your friends, Lily. We wouldn't think less of you for what that bitch did to you," Leo said.

"I'm not worried about you thinking less of me for that. It's just…" She sighed and looked at the extinguished firepit. "Do you know how she hatched me? How I got my fire powers? I was thrown into a fire much like the one we lit tonight while I was still an egg. The first sensation I experienced upon hatching was being burned alive. Pain was my welcome into existence…and it has been my constant companion since then, along with fear, and loneliness, and despair, and B."

"…Damn," Leo said softly. "I'm sorry-"

"I know," Lily said bitterly. "All of you are." She sighed and looked at Lily. "I do not want to just be someone who is pitied, Leo. Someone everyone can feel sorry for. There's…there's more to me than that. At least…that's what B tells me…"

"'Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart,'" Leo said, quoting one of his many favorite lines from Lady of the Rings. "You're much more to us than just someone to pity, Lily. You're our friend."

"Even though we have only known each other for a short time?" Lily asked doubtfully.

Leo shrugged. "Sure. That sorta thing happens all the time."

Lily sighed. "I wonder if you would feel that way if you knew even half the things I have done."

"Your mom made you do them," Leo pointed out.

"I still did them," Lily said unhappily. "How can someone who has done as much wrongness as I possibly become a hero, or deserve friends, or any of the kindness you have given me?"

Leo shrugged. "People who've done lots of horrible things in the past but are sorry about them get redeemed, forgiven, and become good guys all the time."

"Really?" Lily asked in surprise.

"Oh yeah, totally," Leo said, nodding fervently. "Just look at Master Yamiri. He used to be a totally bad—and not in a good way—mercenary back when he was alive, but now he's one of the saintliest mons I've ever met."

"Mother said that there was no forgiveness for the sins I have committed," Lily said, looking doubtful.

"She also probably told you love and pity and friendship and hope and stuff like that are weak and stupid and pointless," Leo said bluntly. "And beat you because she's a horrible womon and an awful parent. I don't think she's the best person to rely on for knowledge of the way things work."

"…And you are?" Lily asked dubiously.

Leo shrugged. "I try."

Lily thought about this for a moment. "…And you truly think I can be forgiven?"

"Well, I've already forgiven you," Leo said.

"But you don't even know everything I've done!" Lily protested.

"Doesn't matter. I forgive you anyway," Leo said.

"But…but why?!" Lily protested.

"Because I'm your friend. Duh. It's what friends do," Leo said.

Lily stared at him for a moment. And then she started crying. "I…I don't think I deserve those," she sobbed.

"Yes," Leo said. "You do."

And then, to Lily's surprise, he hugged her. "Wh-what are you doing?" she asked in surprise.

"It's called a 'hug.' I'm guessing you didn't get many of those growing up," Leo said.

"I…no. No, I didn't," Lily said softly, her tears drying up. She closed her eyes and leaned into the hug.

After a few minutes, Leo let go of her. "Feeling better?"

"A little," Lily said in surprise. "How did you do that?"

"That's the magic of a good hug," Leo said smugly.

"Magic? But I thought you didn't have the power to cast spells," Lily said in surprise.

Leo sighed. "Yeah, don't remind me. But there's more magic in the world than what you get by casting spells, Lily."

"…I see," Lily said. She wasn't sure she did.

But she wanted to.

"Here, I have something else that might cheer you up," Leo said, reaching into his shell and pulling out a card.

"What is that?" Lily asked in puzzlement.

"It's a Lu-Gi-Oh card," Leo said. "You see, Lu-Gi-Oh is-"

"I know about Duel Monsters," Lily interjected. "Mother's studied many forms of magic in attempts to get absolute power. She was never able to master Lu-Gi-Oh, though, because…well, just between you and me, she's terrible at the game."

"Ha! Really?! Wow, that's…that's hilarious!" Leo said, chortling in surprise.

"Mother didn't think so," Lily said. "And neither did I, when she took her frustrations out on me."

"…Er…anyway," Leo said loudly to change the awkward subject. "This card is one of my favorites, the Dark Magician Girl." He held his card in the moonlight so Lily could see it better. The front was covered by the image of a rather cute flirtatiously winking Misdreavus with a blue and purple pointed hat, blue and pink armor and robes, and a wand glowing with power.

"Why are you showing this to me?" Lily asked in puzzlement, noting that the Misdreavus on the card looked much, much happier than Lily herself had ever been.

"The first time I met you, I thought of this card. Because you're a cute Misdreavus magician, and I have a thing for magical girls," Leo said.

"Okay…" Lily said slowly, not seeing where he was going with this.

"Now that you've joined the team, however, and I've gotten to know you better, what you really remind me of is this," Leo said, putting the Dark Magician Girl card away and taking out another one.

Lily stared at it blankly, which was quite fitting since the card was blank. "There's nothing on it," she said.

"Yeah, I know. I keep a half-dozen or so blank cards on me at all times just in case I ever run into some powerful spirit or monster that's willing to form a pact with me and need somewhere to keep it," Leo said.

Lily frowned. "What are the chances of that happening?"

"Higher than you'd think," Leo said.

"So…are you showing me this card because you want to form a pact with me?" Lily asked, confused.

"No! Well…kind of, maybe, but that's not something we need to discuss now," Leo said.

Lily blinked. "Wait, what was that-"

"Anyway," Leo said. "Right now, this card reminds me of you. Or vice versa."

"…How so?" Lily said. "There's nothing on it."

"Nothing on it now. It's a blank space, meaning that it has limitless potential waiting to be filled," Leo said. "You can put anything on it. Anything at all. Just like you."

Lily blinked. "Huh?"

"You had a bad past, thanks to your mom. But you're free of her now. You can do whatever you want now. Your future is whatever you choose it to be. You're a blank canvas, just waiting to be painted on…just like this card," Leo said. "You can choose your own destiny now, Lily. Be whoever you want to be."

"But my curse-" Lily protested.

"We'll break that. We broke you free from your mom, didn't we?" Leo said dismissively.

"I…yes. That you did…" Lily admitted.

"So we'll save you from this as well. And after that? The sky's the limit. You can make whatever you want of yourself…just like this card can be just about anything itself, some day," Leo said. He yawned. "Oh, dang, sorry…I think I need to get back to bed, or I'm gonna be pretty cranky in the morning. Not as cranky as Tiny, but hey, he's Tiny. That's to be expected. Here, you can keep the card, I've got spares."

"Y-you're giving this to me?!" Lily asked in astonishment as she grasped the blank card in one of her tendrils. "But why?"

"First of all, friends give each other gifts sometimes. It's a nice thing to do. Second, think of it as a reminder of who you can be…who you want to be," Leo said. "Namely…just about anything. That card has limitless potential…and so do you." He yawned again. "And on that note, I'm off. Night, Lily. See you tomorrow morning."

He walked off into the night. Then he realized he was going the wrong way and turned around to head for his tent. Lily paid no attention to this as she stared at the blank card he had given to her, its white surface speaking to her of unlimited possibilities and a future without boundaries. "Be whoever I want to be…" she whispered.

A tear fell onto the card. This one was of happiness rather than sorrow.

Back on Mars…

"And you kept it all this time…dang. I can't believe I forgot about that," Leo said apologetically. "I must've been more tired than I thought that night."

"When you gave me this card…the first true present I had ever received from another…I think that the seeds of love began to take root in my heart," Lily said, a fond look on her face. "And now, I wish to return it to you."

"Huh? Why?" Leo asked in surprise. "Lily, it was a gift, you don't need to-"

"Leo, this card isn't just a symbol of my future, of what I could become. Not anymore," Lily interrupted. "You have helped me to reach my full potential, the promise the card spoke of. And now I wish to repay the favor, by helping the card achieve its true potential…and your own." She flipped the card around and floated it over to Leo. "See for yourself. It's not empty anymore."

Leo's eyes widened as he beheld the card. Lily was right. Inexplicably, there was now a picture where once had been blank white space: a beautiful partially draconic Mismagius with a wand flirtatiously winking up at him in the same pose as the Dark Magician Girl. A very familiar Mismagius. "Lily…it…she looks like you…"

"It should," Lily said. "I put a fraction of my power into it. Your Rider powers will allow you to use this card in battle…which means that, even if we get separated during a fight, there will always be a part of me with you, no matter where you go."

Leo looked up at Lily, eyes watering. "Lily…this is…" He paused, blinked, and suddenly burst into laughter.

Lily recoiled. This was not the reaction she was expecting. "Leo?!"

"Oh…oh wow…you nearly pulled one over on me, Lily!" Leo chortled, wiping away a tear.

"What do you-" Lily started.

"On the eve before the final battle, the hero's love interest gives him a magical trinket that's supposed to be some kind of good-luck charm and is symbolic of their love for each other? Obviously it's some kind of power-up item that helps him achieve new levels of strength just when he needs it most!" Leo said. "Let me guess, in a moment of desperation, with nothing else left to try, I'm supposed to remember that you gave me this card and activate it, giving me a new game-changing power to win the fight, right?"

Lily blushed. "Heh…right on the nail. I should've known you'd see right through it. You are the one who taught me about this sort of thing, after all."

"The fact that you remembered it all and are starting to invoke tropes on your own just makes me love you even more," Leo said approvingly. "So this card's supposed to give me some kind of Super Mode, right? Since it's a symbol of our love and your development as a character and all that?"

Lily nodded. "I designed it as such, yes. B helped me to make sure it would be compatible with Choc-Oboh's power and have the effects I had in mind. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at what it's capable of."

"If it came from you, I know I will be!" Leo said. He frowned. "But…B helped? Huh…we still know so little about her…how do she and Choc-Oboh know each other, anyway?"

That is something B herself will have to tell you, Choc-Oboh said.

And I'm not ready to tell you just yet. Sorry, B said.

"Eh, whatever. At least I finally have the key for my own Super Mode!" Leo said. "So what powers will this card give me, anyway?"

Lily smirked. "Wouldn't it be more dramatic for you to find out for yourself the first time you use it?"

"Heh, that it would. I've taught you too well," Leo said approvingly, deciding against trying the new card out now. That would make his first use of it in battle all the sweeter. "But…wait!" he said in alarm, a worrying thought occurring to him. "At least some of the time the hero receives a special trinket from his loved one before the big battle, she winds up dying somehow, making the item a tragic keepsake!"

"Yes, I was aware of that when I imbued the card with my power," Lily admitted. "However, I've already taken steps to avoid something like that. That card doesn't just hold some of my power, but a small bit of my ectoplasmic essence as well. If I were to die, you could restore me by taking the card to a powerful enough necromancer and having them rebuild me from that fragment of myself. Sasha might be able to do it since she's Darkrai's Priestess, and Michael could probably handle it as well due to his spiritual powers. If not them, I'm sure there's someone back in Fichina who could do it. Just be careful not to get too obsessed with resurrecting me, I don't want you to do something stupid like holding some sort of mass sacrifice to harvest the energy necessary to bring me back or anything like that, I would not appreciate being revived in such a manner."

Leo nodded fervently. "Yeah, I know. I don't want to become like the White Wizard or Shiro Kanazaki…which…would be oddly fitting, since I look a lot like Masked Rider Odin, who was sort of Shiro's puppet…"

"I don't think anyone would be able to use you for a puppet, Leo," Lily said.

"Yeah, I've taken precautions against such a possibility, like rigging my body to shut down if I get possessed by an evil spirit," Leo said.

Guesss it's a good thing I'm not evil, then, Choc-Oboh said.

"Anyway, this card'll definitely come in handy, Lily. I'll treasure it always," Leo said, slipping the new card into his deck. "I'm just sorry I can't give you anything."

"You've already given me everything I could ever want, my love," Lily said, leaning on his shoulder.

Leo smiled, and both of them continued to look at the view, knowing they didn't have much longer to enjoy it. "Think we've got time for a quickie?" Leo asked abruptly.

Lily considered for a moment. "With a little time magic, I think so."

"Cool. Let's go," Leo said.

And go they went.

Briney looked out at the city from another observation deck on the side of the tower. He wasn't focusing on Baroom so much as the Great Peeko, however, and the Pokemon bustling to and from it as final preparations were being made for the big battle. Such a wonderful ship… he thought to himself sadly. A pity I'm not going to have much longer with her.

"Thank you for coming," the Metagross said out loud.

Sasha, who'd just stepped out onto the balcony, her robes and training and natural ability granting her stealth that came close to rivaling even Dawn's, did not ask how Briney knew she was there. It would be a pointless question. "You wished to speak to me?"

Briney didn't answer for a moment, just looked at the golden starship below. Sasha did not press him, knowing that he would speak his mind in time. "As recently as a few weeks ago, I'd thought I'd seen everything," he said finally. "In my many years on the sea, I've sailed to every corner of the world, docked in nearly every port of call, and visited just about every place worth visiting. I've fought sea monsters and pirates, killed Nihilators, dealt with monarchs of land and sea and air, captained all manner of ships, met many strange peoples, and gone on more adventures than you could ever imagine. I thought I'd seen everything worth seeing and done everything worth doing, save for fulfilling my oath of vengeance.

"And then Ash and the others walked into The Dragonite's Head and things got interesting again. I traveled to a forgotten island, met some of the most notorious pirates to ever live, plundered the Temple of the Sea, got a fancy new ship, and finally killed the last of the bastards who murdered my wife. Once upon a time, that might have been the end of things. But you lot…you gave me a reason to keep on going. I wanted to see what you'd do next. Where you'd go. I'm glad I did." He shook his head in bewilderment. "I've sailed every sea on our planet. I never imagined I'd ever go to the stars."

"Neither did I," Sasha said. "I never thought I'd even leave my own continent. It's very difficult to tell what the future holds sometimes, even for those of us who have some manner of precognition."

Briney nodded. He still hadn't turned around to look at her. "You've seen and done much since leaving your home, Sasha. You've changed. Do you still think you can return to your old cave in the wilderness, and things will go back to the way they were before?"

"…No," Sasha admitted unhappily. "I do not. I fear I will be a stranger in my own land."

"That sort of thing happens," Briney grunted. "I've gone back to the place I grew up, where…where Peeko and I used to live a few times over the years. Barely recognized the place. The people there—those who were still around that knew me, a number which grows smaller every year-barely recognized me. I've…become different than the mon they remember. And they…they've stayed the same, or changed in different ways."

"I'm scared I will lose my family," Sasha confessed, a barely held-back sob in her voice. "That they will not want me anymore, not want what…what I have become."

"If they're really your family, they'll be there for you. You may be different…you may have changed…but maybe the time has come for them to change, too," Briney said.

"I pray you are right," Sasha said quietly.

"Maybe you can even move out of that musty old cave and into a temple somewhere. You are the High Priestess of Darkrai, after all, you and your kin deserve better," Briney said.

"We shall see," Sasha said, her mouth set in a straight line.

"Come here," Briney said.

Sasha obediently padded over and propped her upper body on the railing. "It is a lovely view," she said after a moment.

"That it is," Briney agreed. "Even bigger than New Avalon. Even bigger than many of the other cities I've visited over the years."

"But so empty…" Sasha said sadly. "I did not think I would actually miss the crowds and streets teeming with life. There is too much death here, too many ghosts…and not the kind who talk, either."

"Perhaps you will live to see this place back in peak form," Briney said. "Assuming you ever come back here again."

Sasha made a face. "It is a very long way from home."

"Heh. That's an understatement. Yeah, it is, but now that we've actually been here, it'll be easier to make a permanent portal between our worlds. And there's always the Peeko, of course," Briney said.

"Perhaps, but I do not know if I ever wish to leave home again after this," Sasha said.

"You may not wish it, but it'll probably happen anyway," Briney pointed out. "You're Darkrai's High Priestess, and a member of Team Aurabolt. You'll go where you're needed, regardless of how you feel about it."

Sasha sighed unhappily. "Yes. I know."

They stood there for a while in silence. "Beautiful ship, isn't she?" Briney asked, changing the subject. "The Peeko, that is. The Martian ships are okay, I guess, but not a scratch on my beloved Peeko."

"It is a lovely vessel," Sasha agreed. "Not that I know much about such things."

"There are so many places I could go in her. To other worlds, other stars, other oceans. The best damn ship in the universe, for the best damn sailor who ever lived. It's fitting," Briney said. He sighed. "Too bad I'm not going to get the chance to do any of that. A shame. I wouldn't have minded going on another voyage after all this was over…"

"There is still a way to avoid your fate," Sasha said.

"Which I won't take," Briney said.

"No," Sasha agreed. "You won't."

He closed his eyes for a moment. "Before I met you lot, I didn't really have any purpose beyond avenging the last of Peeko's killers and taking down as many Nihilators as I could along the way. I didn't really have any plans for afterwards. I pretty much assumed that I'd just…well. You know. Not like I had anything else left to do, right?"

"Right," Sasha said quietly.

"But then I met all of you. Became part of a team. Had a crew again for the first time in years. Had people I could trust again for the first time in years," Briney continued.

"You have a funny way of showing it," Sasha said.

"Sasha, I've had so many people trying to kill me over the years it's become second nature to read the minds of everyone around me to make sure they can be trusted. You lot are probably the only ones I'd even consider not reading anymore," Briney admitted.

"Then why don't you stop reading our minds?" Sasha asked.

"Just because I'd consider it doesn't mean I'll actually do it," Briney chuckled, causing Sasha to roll her eyes. "Your minds are such fascinating places. I take great enjoyment in seeing the ways your thought processes work, the ways you see the world, the ways you really feel about each other…and me. But anyway, the thing is…before, the inevitable didn't bother me. I was…almost looking forward to it. But now…now that I actually have something…someone…worth living for again…"

He didn't tremble. He didn't cry. But Sasha still put a paw on his shoulder, and he was grateful for it, though he would never tell her so. "You are still determined to go through with this, and not to tell them?"

"They'd just make things harder than they have to be," he said brusquely. "Look, we're off topic. I called you here for a reason, not just to talk about…that."

"I'm listening," Sasha said.

Briney reached into his hat and took out a rolled-up piece of paper, which he handed to Sasha. "Here. I want you to give this to the others after…well, you'll know when to give it to them."

"What is it?" the Absol asked in curiosity as she unrolled the paper, eyes squinting at the fine text covering the sheet. She'd gotten a lot better at reading, but she still had trouble with it, especially the small stuff.

He told her. Her eyes widened. "…I see," she said finally. "I…I'll make sure to give it to them, then." She reverently wrapped it up and stowed it away in her robes.

"Thanks," he said curtly. "I appreciate it."

Briney said nothing for a while. After several minutes, Sasha asked, "Is there anything else?"

"No," Briney said. "Wait. Yes. One thing. Um…" He fidgeted awkwardly. "Your boss. He, uh, have anything else to say about…what'll happen to me…you know, after?"

Sasha closed her eyes. After a moment, she said, "She's waiting for you."

Briney stiffened. A smile, surprisingly gentle, briefly crossed his face. "Well," he said after a moment. "That'll have to do then." He waved her away. "Leave me. I'd like to be alone for a little longer."

Sasha nodded. "Very well. But…Briney?"

"Yes?" the Metagross asked.

"I do not think that now, of all times, is when you should be by yourself," Sasha said.

"You're probably right," Briney said. He made no movement to leave, or turn around.

Eventually, Sasha left. Briney continued to look at his precious golden ship for a while longer. Finally, he whispered, "Peeko…not much longer now…" and turned, and went back into the Citadel.

Michael sat, legs crossed and eyes shut, in meditation at the highest point on the Citadel of Life, beneath the beacon of light shining from the statue's outstretched hand. As the golden light bathed him, the red crystal on his forehead gleamed with an otherworldly luminescence. He was murmuring words under his breath as colored streamers of light danced around him in elegant patterns and formations, glowing brighter and brighter as they circled him before finally breaking away to orbit the light, while new ones, more withered in appearance, with blackened and twisted forms, spun themselves out of thin air to join the dance. Princess Boa was standing nearby, leaning against one of the statue's fingers, watching Michael in interest as the spirits danced and sang around him, though not in any language that mortal ears could distinguish. Well, most ordinary mortals, anyway.

Eventually, Michael's eyes opened. As the light from his crystal faded, the spirits broke away from him and the light, slowly dissolving into glowing particles as they flew away from the Citadel and disappeared. Boa pushed off from the digit and slithered over to him. "How goes it?"

Michael shot her a tired but triumphant smile. "It wasn't easy, but I think I've finally managed to reach an understanding with the spirits of Mars."

Boa nodded. "I can imagine. It can't be easy, trying to communicate with a whole other species of spirit that formed on another planet. Even your ancestors had trouble talking to them, then?"

Michael sighed. "My ancestors are spirits of Earth. They don't…know the language, so to speak, though the fact that they're both spirits helped them achieve a sort of commonality. It would have been easier if there were any Martian shamans or spiritualists left to help interpret, but…there haven't been any new ones for a long, long time. Mars is spiritually imbalanced, and the remaining Martians are too few, and too fixated on getting back their planet, to do anything about it at the moment."

"Is there anything you can do?" Boa asked.

Michael shrugged. "I'm trying. The spirits of this world are so angry, Princess. The Nihilators have poisoned the land, choked the plains with death, filled the rivers with blood, caused suffering and misery so great it's sunk to the center of the world and filled it with sorrow and anguish, rotting the planet from within. They've slaughtered and enslaved the Martian people, and weakened and broken the power of their Life Equation, which once filled the air and allowed the spirits to dance as lights in the sky. The tremendous amount of Shadow Aura gathered here is warping and tearing the very fabric of Mars' spiritual plane, driving the spirits mad. While I'm able to use my powers to pacify them to an extent, give them peace, there is so much wrong with the world it's a temporary fix at best. Only when the Nihilators have been destroyed and Lord Null defeated can the wound in the world finally heal."

"Do you think you can do that?" Boa asked.

Michael shook his head. "Me? No. I am a Pokemon of Earth. Only a Martian shaman, one born of this world, can truly mend the wound left by the Nihilators. Once the Nihilators have been defeated, though, things should settle a bit, and allow a new Martian shaman to be born who can restore balance to this world. While we can help the Martians rebuild the world physically, it is up to them to do it spiritually."

"Do you think they are up to the task?" Boa asked.

Michael sighed. "I hope so, or else they'll have more problems down the line."

Boa nodded in understanding. While she was no shaman or spiritualist, Fichina was a magical enough country and she a learned enough sorceress to understand the importance of spiritual balance. "Will you be able to call upon the spirits of Mars to help us fight?"

Michael hesitated a moment. He bit his lip. "I…can, yes. I know how to call them now that I understand their language, so to speak."

"But…?" Boa prompted.

Michael sighed. "As I said before, they are very angry. Twisted. Dark. I could summon them…and probably will…but I would not be able to control them in their current state. They are too enraged and in pain."

"Would they attack us?" Boa asked in concern.

"I don't think so," Michael said with a frown. "While they're angry at everyone right now, the brunt of their fury is directed at the Nihilators. If I summon them, they will attack the Nihilators. Afterwards, though…"

"They might start attacking someone else. Understood. Can't you banish them? Pacify them like you did the spirits you just dealt with?" Boa asked.

Michael shrugged. "I'm just one mon, Princess. And it's going to be a big battle. As a magician, you should know that it's often easier to bring something up than it is to put it down."

"Then I suppose it's a good thing we'll have other spiritualists coming from Earth to help," Boa said.

"They won't know the language," Michael warned her.

"Then they'll have to learn. As awful as this might sound, Michael, we're in a war, and we need any weapon we can get our hands on to win," Boa said.

Michael nodded unhappily. "Yeah, I know…it just goes against most of what I've been taught, is all. Summoning spirits to help in battle is one thing, but…calling upon dark spirits, taking advantage of their torment…" He sighed. "But…I suppose in war, sometimes you have to do things you wouldn't otherwise. Even sacrificing your principles…" He grimaced. "And it's not like there's anything else I can do to help, is there?"

"Still feeling inadequate?" Boa asked sympathetically.

Michael gave her an embarrassed look. "Can you blame me? Everyone else is so…strong. Ash is the Chosen One. Pikachu—no, Tenjin—has a holy sword and incredible lightning powers. Leo is apparently semi-immortal now and can turn into some kind of superhero. Lily is one of the most powerful sorceresses in the world, with blessings from gods of fire and dragons. Tiny can use Aura and will one day become a Pokemon strong enough to demolish mountains with a single blow. Sasha is the High Priestess of the god of darkness and death and nightmares and lots of other things, with an extremely powerful magical robe. Dawn is a great ninja with incredible ice powers. Captain Briney is…"

"Captain Briney?" Boa said.

"Precisely," Michael said. "And you're an accomplished mage-knight yourself, with two of the strongest swords in the world, heir to the throne of the greatest sorceress who ever lived. And Ash and Sasha are both getting even more power soon, with this whole 'Mega Evolution' thing. While I'm…just the leader of some backwoods tribe who can talk to spirits."

"Do not sell yourself short, Michael," Boa said.

"Why shouldn't I? When my ancestors told me my friends needed me, I figured I'd actually be useful," Michael grumbled. "I never thought they'd have gotten so many new friends and great powers. I feel…overshadowed. Left out. I was part of the team for less than a day before, while everyone else has been there for weeks and weeks. I don't feel like I belong anymore. I almost wonder if I should have gone with them after they left the Tree of Beginning instead of staying with my people…maybe then I'd feel less like I have so far to catch up to them."

"Never think that," Boa said sharply. "You are the leader of your tribe. It is your responsibility to take care of them. After everything they went through at the hands of the Nihilators, they needed your leadership to give them hope and a chance for the future. You did the right thing staying to care for them."

"I guess…" Michael said. "But that doesn't make me feel any less like I don't belong, though."

"You are not the only one," Boa said, much to his surprise. "The rest of the team has known each other far longer than I. They work with each other better, and understand each other's jokes and thoughts and ways of doing things. There are times where they talk about something, or reminisce about some fight or some silly thing Leo or Ash or Tiny did, and I feel left out, since I joined so late and missed out on all of that. I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have known them sooner. Then I'd feel more like I was a true friend and companion and less like I'm just…someone along for the ride."

"…Heh. I guess we're in the same boat, huh?" Michael said with a smile.

"It would seem so," Boa said sadly.

"Well, there's one good thing about that," Michael said.

Boa raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"

"It means we can feel alone and left out together," Michael joked.

"Ha! We can at that," Boa said in amusement.

They smiled at each other. After a moment, Michael said, "My ancestors want to know if you're single."

"I'm engaged, actually," Boa said apologetically.

"Oh well," Michael said with a shrug. He hadn't really thought he had a chance with the princess anyway. "We can still be friends, though, can't we?"

"Certainly," Boa said.

"That's good," Michael said. His smile grew. "You know, I think this might be the first time the two of us have really just been able to…talk, without anyone else butting in. What's it like, being a warrior princess and daughter of the most powerful magician in the world?"

"Ah, the stories I could tell you…" Boa said with a grin.

"Why not? We have some time," Michael said, patting the ground next to him.

That they did. Boa sat beside him and began to talk. And as the two conversed, neither of them felt quite so left out anymore.

Inside the Citadel…

"Hmm…my, my…you've done it again, Ash," Nosferatina said approvingly after critically observing Tiny for several minutes, running him through her hands and examining every inch of his body, causing him to giggle. "The boy's in perfect health—healthier than most wild or civilized Pupitar, for that matter—is incredibly strong with the potential to become even stronger, and is, of course, absolutely adorable," she cooed, rubbing Tiny's cheek against her own.

"Awww, thanks Miss Nosferatina!" Tiny said, blushing. "You're really nice, and pretty. My Nefertari's prettier though. Er, no offense."

"None taken. Of course you'd think the love of your life is the most beautiful womon in the world." Nosferatina grinned at the Mareepish look on Ash's face. "And he's already got a significant other? Heheheheh. He's certainly your son, Ash."

"Wh-what's that supposed to mean?!" Ash said, flushing harder.

"Barely a month old and already stronger than many Pokemon years older than he is and turning all the girls' heads? Sounds like a child of Ash to me," Nosferatina said in amusement, handing Tiny back to Ash.

"She's got you there, Ash," Tenjin said with a grin.

"Of course, that means you have a lot of catching up to do, Tenjin. When are you and Dawn going to have children?" Nosferatina asked, causing Tenjin to splutter, Ash to burst into laughter, and Dawn to smirk in amusement.

"I…th-that's…we haven't-" Tenjin stammered.

"Do not worry, Tenjin, I shall give you a mighty brood to carry on the great legacy of our clans," Dawn promised her master, causing Tenjin to turn even redder.

"I'll bet it'll be mighty. She's a Lopunny, after all, and they breed like…Lopunnies…" Ash said, looking briefly puzzled.

"And that means I'll have tons of cousins to be a cool older relative to! Awesome!" Tiny said.

"And I get to play the role of uncle for a change," Ash said in amusement. "I am going to have so much fun spoiling your kids and doing all sorts of wacky things with them you'd never allow them to do."

"Oh, stop it…" Tenjin groaned.

"Speaking of which, I'm glad you've finally found a partner, Tenjin," Nosferatina said. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever settle down."

"So did Mom," Ash said.

Tenjin facepawed. "Can we please not talk about this?"

"No," Ash said.

"You're very lucky to have landed him, you know," Nosferatina said to Dawn. "He was quite the eligible bachelor back in Pokemon Square. Ash would have been too, except everyone knew Misty'd staked a claim on him, even if neither of them were willing to admit it."

"Because I'm such an idiot…" Misty growled.

Ash sobered up at this. "…Yeah. Misty…" he said quietly.

"…Don't worry, Ash. I'm sure she'll be back from space soon," Nosferatina said, instantly comprehending her friend's hurt. "The Teacher believes she may even arrive at some point today, with reinforcements."

"Great! Which means it's only a matter of hours before she can see what a fuck-up you've become and dump your sorry ass like I should have done centuries ago," Misty said.

"The Teacher sure sounds like a smart guy. I mean, he was able to form this big revolution right under Oblivion's Shadow's nose, kept the growing population of vampires a secret, and even helped the remaining Martians hide from the Nihilators! I can't wait to meet him!" Tiny said.

"You're one of the few children who are ever happy to meet a teacher, Tiny," Ash said in amusement. "But yeah, I want to meet the guy too. It seems like we have a lot to thank him for."

Nosferatina nodded. "I might not have survived in the fortress with my sanity intact were it not for the help of the Teacher and my other friends there. I will be overjoyed to finally set them free. Many of them have been in there for years." She hesitated. "But of course, there is one prisoner whom I wish to set free above all others…"

Ash nodded in agreement. "Yeah. My brother. Don't worry. I'll do everything in my power to save him, Nosferatina."

Nosferatina smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Ash. I…care a great deal for him."

"I know," Ash said. "You two deserve each other, honestly. I'm happy you were able to find each other. Honestly, I'm surprised you never settled down with anyone back home, Nosferatina. Your species, uh, doesn't really remain single for long."

Nosferatina blushed. "Well, ah…that may have been in part because after over a thousand years of lacking a body, I didn't really have much of a libido."

"Funny, I'd have thought it'd be the other way around…" Tiny murmured. Ash grimaced.

"And, well…I was also kind of holding out hope for you for a while," Nosferatina confessed, unable to meet Ash's eyes.

"…Oh," Ash said awkwardly.

"You and nearly every other girl in town…" Tenjin grunted.

"I'm…sorry, Nosferatina. I…I never noticed. I'm, uh, kind of dumb where romance is concerned…" Ash said.

"Tell me about it," Misty grumbled.

"It's all right, Ash. I never really thought I had a chance with you. Well, unless Misty was willing to share…" Nosferatina confessed.

Ash's eyes bulged. "Uh…"

"I, ah, don't think she would have," Tenjin said.

"No way," Misty agreed.

"Well, in any event, I'm with Mewtwo now—sort of—so it's all good," Nosferatina assured Ash, much to his relief. He was worried he'd broken her heart or something.

"Nosferatina," Dawn spoke up. "Once we have defeated the Nihilators, what will you do with Mewtwo, and the rest of your kindred?"

"…I'm still working on that, honestly," Nosferatina convinced. "Lots of countries who'd be thrilled to gain access to the power of vampirization have offered me a place in their borders. The Martians are considering asking me to lead them in rebuilding their world, and I'm having trouble thinking of a reason to say no. And some of my kind think we should either create a country of our own somewhere or take a spaceship, a bunch of willing blood donors, and blast off to make a new home out in the stars."

"That seems rather impractical. You'd need a massive population of mortals to draw blood from, unless you had a way to artificially synthesize it," Tenjin said.

Nosferatina nodded. "I know. But it has a certain romanticism to it, don't you think?"

"And…Pokemon Square is out of the question?" Ash asked uncertainly.

Nosferatina sighed. "Would there be room for all of us there, Ash? I've heard there's already quite a lot of overcrowding due to all the refugees and military personnel currently staying there."

"They're thinking of expanding the city…" Ash said uneasily.

"Which…might not be the best thing for everyone because the town's outer wall can't be moved outward, and that wall marks the edge of our shield," Tenjin pointed out. "So if there's any attacks in the future, our shield can't protect anyone outside the wall."

"After the next big battle, will we even need it? I'm pretty sure most of the barbarians will be gone, and so will the Nihilators," Ash said.

"There are more dangers in the world than just Nihilators or barbarians," Tiny said.

Dawn nodded. "And considering how a number of countries have been eyeing Pokemon Square because of the great secret it contains…I have a feeling you will need that shield for protection long after this battle is over."

"…Yeah, but…having an army of vampires on our side could definitely help us get a leg up on protecting ourselves!" Ash insisted. "And there's lots of big hills nearby, and there's also the bluff the post office is on…you could, like, build a castle or underground catacomb or something to live in!"

"And would everyone in town be willing to donate blood so my people can feed themselves?" Nosferatina asked doubtfully.

"Sure!...probably…" Ash said uncertainly.

"They…might, actually," Tenjin admitted. "We live in a pretty weird town. We've grown to accept the unusual. Why not have a bunch of vampires live next door? Plus, you are well-liked back home…"

"And aside from that, it's not like all of your vampires have to live with you," Dawn pointed out. "Thanks to the efforts back home, soon the barbarians will be cleared from the continent, and all the old towns can be rebuilt. There will be plenty of places for your kin to spread out and make homes for themselves."

Nosferatina considered this for a moment. "…The idea of returning to Pokemon Square is appealing…I was not certain there would still be a place for me, though. Not after…everything that has changed. I am not the same person I once was. Would I really belong there?"

"…None of us are the same people we started as before this mess began," Ash said solemnly.

"Yeah, that's an understatement," Misty snarked.

"But I still have a home waiting for me back in Pokemon Square, and a family, and I intend to return there once everything's finished," Ash said. "And so do you, Nosferatina. Everyone back home misses you too, and wants you to come back."

"Pichu keeps pestering me to ask you about making him into a vampire. Wants to be the world's first vampire samurai or something," Tenjin said, rolling his eyes.

"That would be kind of cool…" Tiny said.

"…You truly think I would still be welcome?" Nosferatina asked after a moment. "Even with my army of vampires? Even with…Mewtwo?"

"If they can handle us, I'm sure they can handle all of you," Ash said.

"Except they can't really handle you, can they?" Misty asked.

"And…well, only a handful of people actually know Mewtwo and Oblivion's Shadow are the same person, and most of them aren't in Pokemon Square. So…if we keep it quiet and just play him off as Ash's brother and a Nihilator prisoner, they probably won't question it," Tenjin said.

"And even if they do find out…well, it's one of those evil split-personality/possession things. They understand stuff like that back home," Ash said.

Tiny blinked. "They do?"

"Yeah. Wouldn't be the first time we've run into something like that," Tenjin agreed.

"Truly?" Dawn asked in surprise.

Tenjin nodded. "Pokemon Square can be a very…interesting place."

"I never expected Nurse Joy of all people to have that side to her…" Ash mused.

"Even Joys can have their darkness, I guess. The one in Treasure Town just gave in to hers," Tenjin said.

Nosferatina chewed her lip in thought for a moment. "I want to go back to Pokemon Square," she said finally. "I want to go…home. But I am the matriarch of a new people now, and I must do what is best for them, regardless of my own desires. If it is not in the best interests of my people to move back to Pokemon Square…then we shall have to make our home somewhere else. I must think on this."

"…All right. Take your time," Ash said, hiding his disappointment. Surely she'd still come back. After all, Pokemon Square was her home. It was where she belonged…right?

But then again…she'd changed. She wasn't Gardevoir anymore. And Ash…wasn't the same Ash who'd left town so many weeks ago. Despite his own words, despite his insistence that he was going to go home, a part of him had to wonder…did he really still belong in Pokemon Square?

Especially…with what was happening inside of him?

…Of course he was. What a stupid question. His family was in Pokemon Square. His friends. Just about everyone he cared about. And Aaron, too, who might be able to help with his…problem.

So, that's what he was going to do. After this was over and Misty got back from space, they would all return to Pokemon Square, and everything could go back to…well…maybe not normal, too many things had changed, but something like it. That wasn't too much wishful thinking, right?


"I've missed this, you know. Talking to you. It seems like it's been years since the last time we saw each other," Nosferatina said wistfully. "And you seem so much more different from how I remember you…then again, I have changed as well. We all have. But, despite it all…we are still friends, are we not?"

"Absolutely," Ash said.

"And if you're really hooking up with Mewtwo, that means you're going to be a Thunderblade too, just so you know," Tenjin said.

Nosferatina blinked. "I am?"

Tiny nodded. "Sure. If Mewtwo is Daddy's brother and you're going to marry him, and if Grandma and Grandpa adopt Mewtwo into the family-"

"Which they will," Ash said.

"Without a doubt," Dawn agreed.

"Then that means you get to be my aunt!" Tiny said gleefully. "And since your vampires are like your kids, that means I have even more cousins! Oh wow, this is so great!"

Nosferatina laughed in surprise. "I hadn't thought of it like that…it'll be interesting, being a part of your family."

"'Interesting' is putting it lightly," Tenjin said with a smirk.

"The Thunderblades seem to be one of the oddest and most varied families in the world…I love it," Dawn said happily, hugging Tenjin. "Just as I love you." She kissed him on the cheek, causing the Pikachu to blush.

"I really have missed out on a lot…when we have more time, you must tell me more about your adventures in Sinnorre, and how you've met so many wonderful friends. And I want to get to know them, as well," Nosferatina said.

"Don't worry. Once we've dealt with the Nihilators, and…some other things," Ash said evasively. He hadn't brought up his problem with Nosferatina yet. They had more important things to worry about right now. "We'll have all the time in the world to catch up on lost time…sis."

Nosferatina blinked in surprise…then burst into laughter. "'Sis,' huh? I think I like the sound of that…" She smiled. "As does having a family…a real family…again…"

"Yeah…" Ash agreed fondly.

"Ugh…they're so sappy…" Misty said in disgust. She hugged herself. "So…why…why do I wish I could be a part of that?"

"How pathetic. Soon, all will perish."

A little later…

After spending some time shooting the breeze with Nosferatina, the vampire Queen had to leave to make some final preparations with the Martians. Ciela and Bridget had told Ash to meet them back in the amphitheater where they'd held the strategy meeting so they could go over how to use his Mega Stone, and when he arrived he found that Sasha, Cynthia, Invidiana, Sparkler, a Blaziken, a Kangaskhan, a Charizard, a Blastoise, and a Venusaur were all waiting for him. The young Lucario was rather surprised to see the Ampharos present. "Sparkler? What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Getting a Mega Stone, obviously," Sparkler said.

"But…I thought you weren't going to be fighting, just running the engine room," Ash said.

"Those Clefairies said that I could use the Mega Stone's power to increase my own engineering skills and magic and boost the Great Peeko's performance by at least five hundred percent. How could I refuse something like that?" the engineer said with a grin.

"Huh. Guess that makes sense," Ash said.

The Ampharos fidgeted. "Um…I heard that that robot Outlaw is here. Did you, uh, happen to see Rono?"

Ash blinked. "Rono…oh, you mean that Lairon Outlaw sort of…er…enslaved?"

"Yes," Sparkler said.

Ash winced. "Ah…no. I didn't see him. Sorry. I, uh, could ask next time I see her, if you like…"

"I…would appreciate that, thanks," Sparkler said in relief.

"Hello, Ash," Sasha said, coming over. "You're here later than the rest of us. Don't tell me, you got lost, didn't you?"

"…It's a big building…" Ash said, embarrassed.

"But there's helpful signs and everything," said the perplexed Sparkler.

Invidiana nodded. "They're in an alien tongue, and I still had no trouble getting here."

"Ash has a very bad sense of direction," Sasha said dryly.

Ash grunted and crossed his arms. "You don't need to rub it in, okay?"

"I didn't really expect the Chosen One to have a bad sense of direction," the Blaziken said.

Ash frowned at him. "I'm a person too, you know. Just because I'm the Chosen One doesn't mean I'm perfect."

"Yeah. You're far, far, far from that," Misty snarked.

Cynthia nodded in agreement. "I have studied some of the prophecies of the Chosen One. While most of them speak of his heroism and the great feats he has done or will accomplish, there were a couple that emphasized that he was still mortal and fallible. His horrible sense of direction came up. A lot."

"…Seriously?" Ash said incredulously. "People were writing about that millennia before I was even born?!"

"So it would seem," Sasha said in amusement. Ash groaned and facepawed.

"Wow. That's embarrassing," Invidiana commented.

"At least he has prophecies about him. I wonder if I'll ever be mentioned in the history books for my participation in this battle. I'm just an engineer, after all, not a big hero or royalty like a lot of the rest of you," Sparkler said, not that sympathetic.

"Ha! I'd certainly like to see those prophecies. Wonder if any of them talk about how clueless in love you are. Or how stupid and ugly you are. Or talk about the horrible awful thing you did you still won't admit to yourself…" Misty said.

"Chosen One, you are from Pokemon Square, correct?" Cynthia asked while Ash was feeling very sorry for himself.

Ash looked up at the Garchomp. "Hmm? Yeah, why?"

"I thought as much. Is it safe to say, then, that you are acquainted with Master Yamiri?" Cynthia asked.

Ash perked up at the mention of the old priest. "Yamiri? Yeah, we know each other fairly well. I mean, uh, I usually don't pay attention to his sermons, but we worked together to liberate Twilight's Edge from Brodie." He gasped and snapped his claws. "Oh, right! You're from the Order too! Do you guys know each other?"

Cynthia nodded. "We trained together several hundred years ago back when we were both acolytes under Master Yon. We went our separate ways after graduating and, sadly, fell out of touch. These things happen."

"Yeah…" Ash said, thinking back to friends he'd made back in his past life…friends he'd pretty much forgotten about, even before dying and losing his memory. "Sucks when that happens, though."

"I was wondering if you might convey a message from me. A memorial service is to be held for Master Yon in the Holy City after this is all over, and we would like Yamiri to give a speech, since he was Yon's favorite student," Cynthia said.

"Really? Yeah, sure, I'll tell him," Ash said, grimacing at the memory of Yon's death. He'd almost forgotten about that. So many things had happened since Twilight's Edge…it shouldn't have been enough to make him forget the death of a good mon.

"That sounds like a great honor," Sasha commented.

"It is," Cynthia said, looking a little sad.

"Why are you not giving the speech instead?" Sasha inquired.

Cynthia sighed. "As I said…Yamiri was always Yon's favorite…"

There was an awkward silence. "So, uh, who's everyone else here? I don't think I recognize most of you. You weren't at the briefing," Ash said, trying to change the subject.

"That's because we're rank-and-file soldiers, not high-ranking officers," the Charizard said.

The Kangaskhan nodded. "When the Clefairies revealed which Mega Stones they had available and reviewed the list of personnel who came on this voyage, they selected us, with permission from our superiors, to gain the massive power of the Mega Stones."

"We look forward to using it against the Nihilators and crushing those bastards for everything they've done to our planet...and my country!" the Venusaur growled.

Ash blinked. "Your country?"

"My name is Bruteroot. I'm from the Florana Republic," the Venusaur explained. "Our country's been in terrible shape for years. Turns out our government's been in the pocket of the Nihilators for decades and has been undermining us to support Lord Null's cause. It was very satisfying to clean house, let me tell you." He grinned. "Just as it'll be satisfying to use Mega Stone power to crush the bastards responsible for my country being in such lousy shape to begin with!"

"You are not the only one with reason to wish vengeance on the Nihilators," said the Kangaskhan. "I am Gararu, and this is my daughter, Tomo," the Parent Pokemon said, gesturing to the child in her chest pouch.

"Hello," Tomo said.

"Should you really be bringing a kid to a warzone?" Ash asked.

"You brought your son," Gararu said.

"…Good point," Ash admitted.

"What grievance do you have against the Nihilators?" Sasha asked.

"Well, I personally haven't been affected by them, and neither has my country," Gararu admitted. "But the Nihilators have done horrible things to children from all over the planet. My kind treasures children above all else. The crimes the Nihilators have committed against the children of the world are inexcusable, and I'm more than happy to help bring them to justice for it."

"I have no particular beef against the Nihilators, other than the fact that they're evil and need to be stopped," the Blaziken said, extending a claw to Ash, who shook it. "Name's Harrison."

Ash blinked. "Harrison?" Memories of a young man opposing him in the Silver Conference in Johto flashed through his mind. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Harrison."

"Same here, Chosen One. I believe you met my father on your journey to collect the Star Badges," Harrison said.

Ash blinked. "I did?"

Harrison nodded. "Yeah. An older Blaziken, wears shades, goes by the name of Busamo Ford?"

Ash's eyes widened in horror, while Sasha stiffened beside him. "Oh…oh SHIT."

"Don't worry, I have no intention of avenging him or anything like that. We had a rather…bad falling out many years ago, and I honestly believe he got what was coming to him, after I heard what he was up to in Battlus. You have my thanks for putting a stop to his crimes and giving him what he deserved," Harrison assured the worried Lucario. "Although…what exactly did you do with my father's statuette?"

Ash frowned. "Uh…hmm. I'm not sure, actually…"

"Leo gave it to a Golem on Zero Isle to solve a riddle on our way to finding the rest of you," Sasha said.

Ash blinked. "He did? Oh. Uh…well, sorry, Harrison."

"It's all right," Harrison said. "I'm not really sure what I'd have done with him anyway. But, uh…do you think that Golem still has it?"

Sasha shrugged. "I do not see why not."

"Right. Thanks. Maybe I'll stop by Zero Isle once this is all over, then…" the Blaziken murmured to himself.

"I'm Shellshocker. I hail from Aqualantis," the Blastoise said. "Ever since Manaphy took over the Temple of the Sea, he and his forces terrorized our kingdom and the other realms of the deep, killing many, destroying numerous homes and undersea cities, and dumping a great deal of pollution in our waters. I am grateful—we are all grateful—that you and your friends managed to stop him, and I will do everything in my power to repay the favor by helping to defeat the bastards who were backing Manaphy in the first place."

Ash nodded gratefully as he shook the Blastoise's hand. "We need all the support we can get. And, uh, sorry we kind of…destroyed the temple…"

"…It's okay. It was just a building. We can always make a new one," Shellshocker said after a moment's hesitation.

"I'm not sure it's actually within anyone living's capabilities to create a new Samiya-" Sasha started.

"And that just leaves…" Ash asked loudly, looking at the Charizard.

"I'm Clark. I'm afraid I don't really have any history with the Nihilators or big reason to want to fight," the Charizard confessed. "I'm just a loyal soldier of the Draconian Empire, doing his duty. Our leaders say 'fight the Nihilators' and so I'm here to fight them. Simple as that. Still, I'm honored to be able to serve my Emperor and country in any way I can."

"Well, we're happy to have you on board too, then," Ash said, shaking Clark's hand.

"And I am Invidiana, a princess of Faerie, daughter of the High Queen Neria," the beautiful Mawile said, offering a hand. She frowned slightly when Ash shook it instead of kissing it.

"Pleased to meet you, Your Majesty," Ash said. "Well…I think we've run into each other before, or at least seen each other, but…yeah."

"Where are your sisters?" Sasha asked.

"Oh, they couldn't come. Weren't allowed since they won't be getting Mega Stones." Invidiana smirked. "They must be so jealous."

"Speaking of Stones…when are those Clefairies going to get here with them, anyway?" Bruteroot complained.

"We're right here," Ciela said from right behind the Venusaur.

He started. "Ack! How long have you been there?!"

"Long enough," said Bridget, gesturing to a table that had not been there a moment ago. "Now, if you'll all come this way, we can set you up and brief you on how Mega Evolution works."

The ten Pokemon followed the two Clefairies to the table. On it were eight round stones, each of which had a two-toned swirl inside it with different colors. Each of the Pokemon—except for Sasha and Ash, who already had their Stones—stirred as they approached the table, sensing an incredible power emanating from the Stones that resonated with something deep inside of them. Sitting beside the Stones were ten black bracelets with a shimmering round stone set into the center of a swirl-like pattern, a swirl similar to the ones in the Mega Stones visible in the jewel's depths, with horizontal lines crossing it and causing it to look somewhat like a fragment of DNA. "These are your Mega Stones," Ciela said, gesturing to the Stones. "Each one is tailored to work for a specific species of Pokemon."

"Namely, you lot," Bridget said. One by one, she picked up a Stone and tossed it to one of the eight Pokemon who did not already have a Mega Stone. "You've got your Venusaurite, Charizardite Y, Blastoisinite, Kangaskhanite, Blazikenite, Mawilite, Ampharosite, and Garchompite. Enjoy."

"This power…I can feel it…it's incredible…" whispered an awestruck Cynthia.

"I feel like I could power an entire train with this! No, an entire trainyard's worth of trains!" Sparkler said giddily.

"But how do we use these things?" Shellshocker asked, holding his Stone up to an ear and shaking it.

"Most Evolutionary Stones trigger a change the instant they touch a Pokemon whose DNA is susceptible to it," Harrison observed. "That does not seem to be the case here."

"No, it is not," Ciela agreed. "To trigger a Mega Evolution, you will each require a Mega Ring," she said, gesturing to the black bracelets. "Each Ring possesses a Key Stone that will resonate with your Mega Stone and initiate a Mega Evolution."

A deep sense of dread filled Ash's gut. "…Oh no…please tell me you're kidding…"

"Huh? Why?" asked the confused Bridget.

Ash groaned. "Did Leo put you up to this? Please tell me he put you up to this."

"What are you talking about? Why would he do that?" Ciela asked, perplexed.

Ash put his face in his paws. "Don't tell me. To Mega Evolve, you need to strike some sort of pose, touch the Key Stone in the Mega Ring, and say some kind of cheesy code phrase. Am I right?"

The Clefairies looked at him in surprise. "Why…yes. However did you know?" Ciela asked.

Ash sighed. "I've been spending way, way too much time with Leo."

"He is never going to let us hear the end of this," Sasha said resignedly.

"That's how it works? Seriously? It sounds so…cartoonish," Invidiana sniffled.

"Works for me, I love cartoons!" Clark said with a shrug.

Harrison picked up one of the Mega Rings. "Let's give it a shot. Are the Mega Rings tailored to specific species as well?"

"No, Key Stones work with any kind of Mega Stone," Bridget said.

Harrison slipped the Ring on his left wrist and examined it. "So…what's the code phrase?"

"'Execute! Mega Evolution!'" Ciela said.

"Huh. Seems simple enough," Bruteroot said.

"I was worried it was going to be something stupid, like 'Go go Megamorph!'" Sparkler commented.

"Or 'Henshin,'" Ash agreed.

"What's wrong with 'Henshin?'" Cynthia asked.

"Leo uses 'Henshin,'" Sasha said wearily.

"Oh, and he wouldn't want anyone else to use his phrase?" Cynthia asked.

"No, he'd love it if we did. That's the problem," Ash sighed.

Harrison struck a pose and touched his Key Stone. "Execute! Mega Evolution!" Everyone looked on in wonder and awe as absolutely nothing happened. "Er…Execute! Mega Evolution?" Harrison said, touching the Stone again. Still nothing happened. "Execute! Mega Evolution!" he shouted, stabbing the Stone with a talon repeatedly.

"I think it's broken," Invidiana said.

"Maybe he's not posing right?" Sparkler suggested.

"It's not that. Mega Evolution doesn't work outside of a battle or another setting where you or those around you are in danger," Ciela said.

"It's kind of an adrenaline thing. Too complicated to go into," Bridget said dismissively.

"Oh. Well, in the case…somebody attack me!" Harrison said.

"What? Why?" asked the startled Bruteroot.

"So I can transform, of course! If I need a fight to transform, let's have a fight!" the Blaziken said, jabbing at the air a few times.

"…That might not be a bad idea, actually…" Clark murmured. "It'd give us a chance to test these things out…"

"Unfortunately, I'm afraid there isn't any time for a lengthy sparring session or test run," Ciela said.

Bridget nodded. "Yep. We've all got to be on the Great Peeko in a few minutes or else we'll be left behind, and none of us want that, do we?"

"So…what, we're not going to have a chance to figure out how these new powers work ahead of time?" Gararu asked with a frown.

"Other than the instructions on how to turn them on? I'm afraid not," Ciela said apologetically.

"Don't worry, you should know what to do once you've Mega Evolved. That's how these things usually work, after all," Bridget said vaguely.

"It is?" Gararu asked.

"Well, if my other friends who have other forms are anything to go by, then yes," Ash said.

"Oh," the Kangaskhan said.

"Wonder how I'll be affected," Tomo said from her mother's pouch. "Maybe I'll get a roomier pouch to ride in. This thing can get pretty tight."

"Oh, you'll definitely get more room," Bridget said with a cryptic grin.

One by one, the Pokémon took the offered Mega Rings. With this, Ash thought to himself, examining the gleaming Key Stone. I'll have the power to stop Lord Null and save my brother…

"And now, I think it's time we got going," Bridget said.

Ciela nodded. "The Great Peeko is to depart soon. We do not want to be late for the final battle, do we?"

"No, we don't," Ash agreed. "Let's go." He paused, and then said, "Uh, but someone else should probably lead the way, so I don't get lost again."

Everyone else facefaulted. "Oh, Ash…" Sasha said with a sigh.

"You are such an idiot," Misty said flatly.

"It won't be much longer now. My time is coming…"

The plains around Coronet Mons were practically standing-room only. Giant mechas covered nearly every inch of space, and every inch they weren't standing on was occupied by thousands of Nihilator troopers, who were wondering if it were really such a good idea for them to be somewhere where they could easily be stepped on by their larger brethren. Flying in the air above the robots of various shapes and builds were countless warships, battleships, fighters, aerial Nihilators, and one Shadow Lugia, their numbers swarming about and filling the skies. Or rather, they would have filled the skies, were it not for the absolutely titanic Wailord-shaped flagship hovering high above them all, its shadow casting the lands and most of the volcano below in darkness. On the periphery of the massive army, Maxthulhu slithered and lurched, the spores constantly emanating from its body flying all over the place and harassing the ground troops and urging them to 'sleeeeeep.' Occasionally a tentacle would lash out from the monstrous behemoth, grab a ship that passed too close or a mecha, and shoved it into one of its mouths. Nobody did anything. Nobody dared.

Tensions were high. Orders had come down from on high that at any moment, they would be attacked by an invasion force from Earth. How exactly this force was supposed to get there, or how it would fare against their massive horde, none of them knew…but only the most foolish of them dared to wave it off or brag about how easy this was going to be. If Oblivion's Shadow—or Lord Null, as he was calling himself now—was convinced this was going to be a Big Thing, it was going to be a Big Thing.

And besides, after losing so many personnel, bases, and ships on Earth, only the most foolish Nihilators continued to think they were invincible.

"Ha! We are invincible!" Zhu Bajie boasted. "There is no way that those foolish fools from Earth can defeat us for we are invincible, which means we cannot be defeated by foolish fools from Earth because we are invincible and cannot be beaten."

"Isn't that what you've said every single time you've lost, Zhu Bajie?" Arackaiser asked crossly.

Zhu Bajie paused. "Yes. Well…this time, Zhu Bajie means it!"

"Hmmph. I'm sure," Arackaiser said dryly as he reclined back in his command chair on the bridge of the Diabolus ex Nihilo. "There is still nothing on scans?" he asked out loud.

One of the crewmon shook his head. "Sorry, sir. We aren't picking up anything on sensors for thousands of miles. Orbital sensors show the same. We're the only living things on this rock."

"And yet there's Giratina-knows how many Martians hiding out there, and somehow we are about to be attacked by a massive invasion force from Earth, even though only one ship was launched from the blue planet, and none of our probes or ships have picked up anything heading our way from space," Arackaiser said. "How can you account for this?"

The crewmon swallowed and did not look up from his instruments, wondering if he was about to be killed. "I, uh, I can't, sir."

Arackaiser sighed in frustration. "Neither can I. And that's not good."

"Maybe they came to their senses and turned and ran back to Earth to hide in their mothers' skirts if they have mothers who wear skirts which is the sensible thing to do?" Zhu Bajie suggested.

Arackaiser shook his head. "No. They're coming. I don't know how, but they're coming. And one way or another, we'll be ready. We'll have to be." He narrowed his eyes. "This will be my and Turtle Titan's last battle."

"Do you not say that every single time as well and mean it every single time as well and yet every time it is not in fact being the last time you are fighting Turtle Titan even though you are always saying it will be the last time and always meaning it will be the last time?" Zhu Bajie asked.

Arackaiser faceleaved. "Oh, shut up."

And suddenly, they weren't the only ones on the plains of Coronet Mons. Without warning, a magnificent golden ship appeared from thin air, along with a few hundred flying saucers of various sizes, several dozen angular purple and black ships with lots of spikes and points on them, and several hundred flying giant robots, though the largest of them wasn't much taller than a two-story building.

Alarm klaxons rang throughout the bridge. "What the…where did those come from?!" Arackaiser screamed.

"I-I don't know, sir! They just appeared out of nowhere!" the crewmon from before stammered. "They weren't on our scanners! In fact, they still aren't! If it weren't for what my own eyes were telling me, I'd say there wasn't anything there! Could it be an illusion?"

"No…no, I don't think it is…" Arackaiser said with a frown.

Zhu Bajie frowned. "That is a lot more than just one shiny golden ship. Where did those other ships come from when only one shiny golden ship was launched?"

"A good question," Arackaiser admitted. "Several of those look like Martian make, but the rest…I've never seen anything like…wait. There's an emblem on many of them. Magnify!"

The view on the main screen zoomed in on one of the big spiky ships that really looked like it would fit in more on their side, focusing on a large purple angular marking on the side that looked sort of like a pointed face. Arackaiser hissed when he saw it. "Decepticons! But what are Cybertronians doing here? Working with heroes?!"

"Decepti-what now?" a confused Nihilator technician asked.

"Ooh, Decepticons! Evil transforming robots from the planet Cybertron, always waging war over Energon and the fate of the universe with the disgustingly heroic Autobots!" another Nihilator said gleefully. His fellows stared at him. "…What? I like Transformers. I collect toys and stuff. I can have hobbies outside of being evil, can't I?"

"Yes, yes, whatever," Arackaiser said dismissively. "I don't know how they managed to get Decepticons on their side, and I don't care! Open fire! Destroy them all!"


Everyone flinched as the booming telepathic voice echoed through their minds. "Lord Null? What-" Arackaiser stammered.


"Ugh, fine. I think you're making a mistake. Monologueing at them will just give them time for a counterattack," Arackaiser said distastefully.


They waited a moment, but there were no further instructions. Scowling, Arackaiser ordered, "Start powering up all weapons and ready ships for deployment. Also, begin the activation sequence for my little…project."

"But sir, Lord Null said-" a Nihilator protested.

"Lord Null said not to open fire. He didn't say we couldn't get ready to do so," Arackaiser reasoned. "The second he's finished talking to them, I want them wiped off the face of the solar system. Am I clear?"

The Nihilator nodded. "As crystal, sir!"

"Not all crystals are clear," Zhu Bajie said. "Which kind of crystal are we talking about here? The crystals that are clear or the crystals that are not clear?"

"…Er, the clear ones," said the confused Nihilator.

"Very well, then," Zhu Bajie said magnanimously. "Carry on." Baffled, the bridge crew did just that.

"All right, Titan…let's see how you deal with this…" Arackaiser murmured, steepling his leaves and glaring at the golden ship, positive his rival was on it, staring right back at him.

"Arackaiser…it won't be much longer before we finish this!" Leo said, glaring up at the Diabolus ex Nihilo.

"Leo, what are you doing?" Michael asked.

"Arackaiser's probably looking down on me right now and promising to destroy me. I have to do the same thing," Leo said without taking his eyes off the massive ship.

"Oh," said Michael, not understanding. As usual.

"That's a pretty big ship…and a pretty big army," Tiny commented, staring out at the massive army spread out before them. He, Lugia, Victini, Nosferatina, and the rest of Team Aurabolt were standing on the deck of the Great Peeko, just above the bow.

"It looked a lot smaller as a hologram," Lily agreed.

"We can take them," Briney said dismissively. "Wouldn't be the first time we beat an entire army with vastly inferior numbers. And this time we've got superior numbers in reserve. Not that we need them."

"Even if we don't need them, it'll be good to have some reinforcements. I don't relish having to fight all those Nihilators on our own, even with our new powers," Dawn said.

Tenjin nodded. "And even with our allies, it's going to be a pretty close fight."

"It's one we'll win," Ash said firmly. "We have to."

"Yes," Lugia agreed, narrowing his eyes as he scanned with his eyes and mind for any sign of his mate. "For the sake of our loved ones, and everyone on Earth."

"That's quite the opposition…I'm going to enjoy testing my swords against them," Boa said.

"Me too! My sword still thirsts for more Nihilator blood…I'm gonna have fun indulging it!" Victini said.

"I thirst for Nihilator blood as well…a pity I can't safely drink it," Nosferatina lamented. "Ah well. The more that's spilled, the better."

"Many will die this day," Sasha predicted.

"Us or them?" Ash asked.

"Yes," Sasha said.

"Huh?" Ash said.

"Ah, the Mathematician's Answer. Classic," Leo said.

"In all fairness, lots of people on both sides will die today," Nosferatina said.

Dawn nodded. "We'll just have to make sure more of them die than us, then."

"Uh, Sasha, you don't think you could get your boss to…" Tiny asked.

"Resurrect the fallen? is unlikely," Sasha said apologetically. "Ho-Oh might be able to…possibly…we'll just have to see what our options are when the fighting is over."

"And even if that's not an option, Fichina has plenty of necromancers," Boa said. She frowned. "Of course, the casualties we're likely to face might stagger even them…and they'll need intact enough bodies to work with…but it might be a good idea to try it anyway, especially so we don't give the Lich Lord of Necrontyr too many prospective minions for his own armies…"

"Let's not talk about dying, okay?" Ash asked tersely. "Let's focus on what we're here for. To win, and protect the lives of everyone on Earth."

Lugia nodded. "Well said, Ash."

"Blech," Misty said.

"If I can help it, nobody will be leaving this planet alive."

Sasha stiffened. "I sense something approaching…a great evil, no, the greatest evil…the most disastrous thing I have ever felt…"

"I feel it too," Tiny said with a shudder. "Brrr! It's horrible!"

"The spirits…are furious…he approaches…the destroyer…the ravager of Mars…" Michael hissed.

"…Huh. That's a pretty big power reading," Briney muttered, trying not to look nonplussed.

"Who is it?" Lily asked in alarm.

"Who do you think?" Leo asked.

Lugia narrowed his eyes. "Lord Null."

Ash clenched his fists, Aura starting to form around him. "Ash?" Tenjin asked in concern.

"Don't worry," Ash said, narrowing his eyes at an approaching speck. "I'm on top of it."

"We'll see about that."

The speck grew larger as it approached, growing wings, a tail, a long neck…and something on its back. Lugia took a sharp intake of breath when he realized what it was. "It is my wife!"

"And that big white thing on his back…is that…" Boa said.

"Lord Null," Ash whispered, clenching his fists tighter, Aura burning brighter.

The Shadow Lugia, so similar to what their own Lugia had been like not too long ago, swooped down and hovered before them a few meters off the prow. Briney loosened his tight grip on his hammer a smidge. If that bastard had so much as thought of setting foot on his ship, there'd have been hell to pay.

Lord Null, seated on Shadow Lugia's back, looked down on them. He had the advantage of height, both being taller and sitting a bit further up in the air than them. They stared back at him, taking in the colossal white-armored fiend's appearance; his gruesome visage, his long cape, his mutilated arm. An aura of unfathomable, limitless power rolled off of him, along with a sense of dread and terror so great that were the heroes not made of sterner stuff than most mons they'd probably have been driven mad with fear and collapsed to the ground in gibbering, defecating, sobbing heaps. (Well, that and all of those who could were doing their best to use their powers to lessen the impact Null's sheer presence had on them. It was just barely enough.) For many of the heroes, this was their first time seeing their nemesis in the flesh; and he them. Only one thought went through their minds as they gazed upon the greatest evil they had ever faced.

"Wow, he's big," Tiny said with a whistle. "What's he been eating to get that big?!"

"Actually, I think he's really a lot smaller than that, it's just a very big armored suit that he's able to control using complex machinery and Psychic powers," Leo said.

"Oh, that would make sense," Tiny said.

Briney snorted. "Huh, so he's compensating for something? Figures. Guess that explains why he's holed himself up in the biggest volcano in the Solar System. Probably makes him feel better about his own inadequacies and shortcomings."

Nosferatina choked as she tried not to burst into laughter. Michael gave the Metagross a disbelieving look. "Seriously?!"

"Just trying to lighten the mood, kiddo," Briney said.

"Yeah, it wouldn't be a proper encounter with a great enemy without one of us saying something monstrously inappropriate and ruining the mood," Tenjin said wearily.

"It's pretty much to be expected of us by now," Dawn said resignedly.

Ash and Null stared at each other, seeming to block the others out. As Ash gazed upon his archenemy, the old rage started boiling back up within him, his Aura starting to roil about him, gradually growing darker.

The deaths of his mother and friends.

The death of Misty.

The destruction of his entire world.

The ruin of the Tree of Beginning.

The twisted thing Manaphy had become.

The slaughter in Dusty Ditch and the death of Dominick.

Lugia and other Legendaries being captured, tortured, and corrupted.

The suffering Nosferatina, the other vampires, and all of the other Nihilator prisoners had gone through.

Everything the Nihilators had done, every atrocity they'd committed, was ultimately the responsibility of this one being hovering before him.

"That's it, Ash. Give in to your anger. Let it consume you."

And then Null's right eye flickered, changing from red to purple for a split second. Ash stiffened, then took a deep breath, clenched his fists tighter, and concentrated, trying to get his anger under control, reminding himself that losing it wasn't going to help anyone…

Especially not his brother.

Within moments, his Aura had been reduced to an ambient simmer, and was now a very bright blue, without a hint of darkness.

"What? No! Dammit, you were so close!"

"Null," Ash said curtly. "We meet again."

SO IT WOULD SEEM, Null said, inclining his head slightly at Ash.

"You look different. Your armor's changed," Ash said.


"I suppose so," Ash said. He narrowed his eyes. "It's going to need even more modifications by the time I'm through with it."


"Yeah, I kind of doubt that," Briney said.

"We all came here of our own free will," Tenjin said.

"And we all came with the intention of defeating you and your army," Dawn said.

"We know the risks. We know there's a chance not all of us will make it out of here alive," Lily said.

"But we came anyway, because you have to be stopped, and there's no way we'd ever let any of our friends face you or the rest of the Nihilators alone," Boa said.


"Yep," Tiny said. "We've foiled all your plans this far, haven't we?"

"Defeating the undefeatable's something we're good at!" Leo agreed.

"All your forces on Earth have been defeated. This is all you have left. Your last stand," Victini said. "You've got nowhere left to run, Null."

WHO SAID ANYTHING ABOUT RUNNING? Null asked, his eyes gleaming.

And suddenly an indomitable will was bearing down on their minds, a psionic mountain, driven to crush and shatter their psyches on the hard, unforgiving plains of Mars below…

And was rebuffed. Aura from Ash and Tiny, Psychic barriers from Briney and Victini and Lugia, darkness from Sasha and Nosferatina, wards from Boa and Lily, spiritual shielding from Michael, some kind of…jamming thing from Leo, all combined to form a virtually impenetrable wall which not even Lord Null's peerless Psychic powers could penetrate, at least not easily. …MOST IMPRESSIVE, he admitted with some surprise.

Ash smirked. "You didn't really think we'd come here without some way of countering at least some of your power, did you?"


"We might not have stopped all of them, but we'll certainly take care of whatever's left once we're through with you," Nosferatina growled.


"Lose? I don't quite remember our last match going quite that way," Nosferatina said with a grin. "But no, I have no intention of losing to you now."

AND LUGIA, Null said, looking at the sea god. YOU CAME AS WELL, EVEN KNOWING WHAT I CAN DO, EVEN KNOWING I HAVE YOUR FAMILY HOSTAGE? Shadow Lugia shrieked at this.

Lugia snarled. "I came because you have my family hostage. I will save them. And even if I cannot…well, death isn't exactly final for Legendaries, which you know as well as I."


"They aren't ready to face you," Lugia growled. "Not yet. Not after what you've done to them."


"Not a chance! You don't have any hope of defeating us, especially since I'm here!" Victini bragged. "I am the Goddess of Victory, after all, and the only reason you won last time is because I wasn't around to stop you!"

Null chuckled at that. It was rather unnerving. YOU REALLY THINK THAT YOUR VAUNTED 'VICTORY POWERS' CAN STOP ME?

"They've stopped everyone else who's doubted them," Victini said smugly, causing Null to hesitate.

"Brother," Ash said. "It doesn't have to be like this."

Null stiffened. …BROTHER? THEN…YOU KNOW!

"I do," Ash said.

"And we know what you're up to as well," Tenjin said. "I wonder what the rest of your troops would think if they knew that you were using them as pawns so you can break into the Abyss and kill the Ruler of Evil?"


"My Master was very informative," Sasha said smugly.


"Heh. Funny you should say that…" Nosferatina said in amusement.

WHAT? Null asked.

"Your plan's not going to work, Brother," Ash said.

"You do not have the power to destroy the Ruler of Evil. Only Ash can," Lugia said. "It is his destiny as the Chosen One…and you are not he!"


"From Mewtwo?" Leo said.


"I think you are the accursed one, given all the horrible things you've done," Michael snarled.

"We are going to get Mewtwo back, one way or another. You can make it easy by relinquishing control of the body back to him…or we can have Ash remove you by force," Lugia said grimly.

"I know which option I'm looking forward to," Ash said darkly, Aura burning around his paws.


"If that's the case…then why's your right arm so torn up?" Leo asked. "Why's that right eye of yours keep changing colors? Seems to me your 'weaker half' isn't so weak after all!"

"Don't worry, brother. We're going to get him out of you, I promise you," Ash vowed.


"If everyone's telling you that something is impossible and a really bad idea, don't you think it might possibly be a good idea to listen to them?" Lily asked.


"Yeah, and even more got killed for biting off more than they could chew because they were stupid enough to think they knew better than their elders," Briney snorted.

"While seeking to destroy the Ruler of Evil is an admirable goal, you're going about it all wrong. All you've done is cause suffering for countless innocent people," Boa accused.

"Like my tribe!" Michael said angrily.

"And the people of Dusty Ditch!" Lily said.

"And all the people you have locked up in your fortress, being tortured!" Nosferatina said.


"What, for the greater good? Psh, heard that before," Leo snorted. "Please, you're just trying to justify the fact that you want revenge, plain and simple, and don't even care about how many people you'll hurt along the way."


"Yes, it will be," Ash agreed. "But not if you make it a worse place while trying to do that!"

"Not to mention you can't kill the Ruler," Lugia agreed. "Only the Chosen One can!"

"If you really want to kill the Ruler of Evil so bad, why not surrender and join forces with us? Help Daddy become as strong as he needs to be so that he can one day take down the Ruler, instead of implementing an incredibly risky plan that has almost no chance of success and is more likely to unleash the Ruler back on the Omniverse again?" Tiny suggested.


"We all acknowledge that the Ruler of Evil needs to be defeated," Lily said. "But this isn't the right way to do it!"

"If you really want to stop the Ruler, then what's more important: finding a way to destroy it for good, no matter who deals the final blow…or finding a way for you to kill the Ruler, because your pride and obsession with revenge won't allow anyone else to do it?" Dawn pressed.


"So what, you're not only stubborn, but impatient?" Tenjin sneered.

"If you've waited a thousand years already, what's another thousand?" Sasha asked.

Ash sweatdropped. "…Guys, I'd like to think it's not going to take that long for me to resolve my issues."

"You're right. It'll take much longer," Misty sneered.

"Heh. Much, much longer."


"The ends do not justify the means!" Tenjin said angrily.

"He does not seem to agree," Dawn observed.

"Just another nutjob…" Leo snorted.

"Is he really this blind?!" said an incredulous Michael.

"The obsession for vengeance can often cloud people's vision of the truth," Briney said.

"Didn't you embark on a quest of vengeance for over a decade?" Boa asked.

"Yes, but I didn't let it drive me as crazy as this guy," Briney said.


"Um, Mr. Lord Null sir, what about the other demons in the Abyss?" Tiny asked.

Null paused. WHAT?

"Well, the Ruler of Evil's not the only thing locked up there, right?" Tiny pointed out. "I mean, there's lots of other demons…"

"And dead Nihilators," Dawn added.

"And Giratina," Lily said with a shudder.

"Right. Them. And they're not as tightly locked up as the Ruler is, right? So…won't opening the Door let them out so that they can do pretty much whatever they want with the Earth while you're busy trying to kill the Ruler of Evil?" Tiny asked.

"…That's actually a really good point, Tiny," Boa said.

"Didn't think about that, didja?" Leo prodded.


"And what of Giratina?" Lugia challenged. "She does not depend on the Ruler of Evil for her strength!"


"I'm not so sure about that…" Lily said uneasily.

"Neither am I. You're too overconfident. You're underestimating the demons. They're more cunning than you give them credit for," Victini said.


"Giratina practically invented treachery," Lugia argued. "It wouldn't surprise me if she already knows what you're planning."


Sasha snorted. "Somehow I doubt that."


Lugia snarled, enraged that Null was using his family as bargaining chips. Ash snorted. "And let me guess, if we refuse, you'll kill them?"


"There's always a choice, Null. You just keep making the wrong ones," Ash growled.

"We didn't come all this way just so we could turn around and let you keep committing atrocities!" Tenjin said angrily.

"We traveled across time and space to put the smackdown on you for everything you've done, and to save the Earth from your completely and utterly misguided and fucked-up mission of vengeance!" Leo said.

"We have come far as well, Null. We will not back down. We will not stop until you are brought to justice!" Sasha said.


"Oh, we have no intention of letting them die," Nosferatina said.

Tiny nodded. "Yeah! We're going to save them, and stop you, and the Nihilators, for good!"


Leo rolled his eyes. "Was wondering when he'd pull out the 'Silly Lopunny, Idealism is for kids' schtick."

"But Dawn's the only Lopunny here…and I don't think he was just addressing her," Michael said in confusion.

"And I'm not particularly idealistic either," Dawn said.

"Oh, never mind," Leo said in exasperation.

"Please, after everything you've done, you can't honestly still claim that everything you've done was necessary for peace," Victini sneered.

"If you really believe that, you're even crazier than we thought," Tenjin said in disgust.

Briney nodded. "I've done a lot of bad stuff for revenge too, but never on your level, and I never convinced myself I had the moral high ground!"

"Open your eyes, Null! The Ruler of Evil is using you!" Lugia shouted.


"Yeah, that sounds exactly like what someone who was being used and is too stubborn to admit it would say," Leo said.


"I get that a lot," Leo said.

"He really does," Lily agreed.

"The Ruler of Evil wants you to break down the Door to the Abyss! It wants you to let it out! Why do you think it tricked the Legendaries into attacking you and your clones a thousand years ago? It was trying to make you angry enough to do absolutely everything in your power to get access to it, so it could escape!" Ash shouted.


"Oh yeah? Then why do you think it tricked the Legendaries into destroying your home and friends all those centuries ago?" Ash asked.

Null hesitated. I…THAT'S…

For a moment, Ash thought he could sense doubt seeping through a crack in the impressive shields Null had raised around his mind. But then…

His left eye flickered. Not to purple, but black. And Ash realized, with a sudden chill, that Mewtwo might not be the only other consciousness inside his brother's head. Lugia seemed to have come to the same conclusion. "No!" he cried in horror.

"Shit!" Victini swore. "Null, the Ruler of Evil's inside-"


He thrust his left hand out. Power blasted out from it. Power enough to vaporize the Great Peeko and everything on it, starting with the band of itinerant heroes standing before him.

Or rather, it would have, if the ship's reflector shields hadn't activated at that very moment, deflecting his attack and throwing the power back in his face, sending him and Shadow Lugia flying back, crying in pain and surprise.

"Well, guess diplomacy has failed, as usual," Victini said, drawing her sword. "Looks like we'll have to solve this the old-fashioned way, then."

"Like any of us really thought this would ever end any other way," Briney said.

"I don't know…I think we were actually starting to get through to him for a while…but then…" Ash said.

Lugia nodded. "The Ruler of Evil has a tighter hold on his mind than I could ever have feared…this is not good."

"Wait, the Ruler of Evil is inside Lord Null?!" Michael cried.

"That's…that's really not good," said a horrified Tenjin.

"It would certainly explain some of his recalcitrance…" Dawn murmured.

"And explain why I feel…such terror when I gaze upon him," said the shocked Sasha.

"Oh, snap! Does this mean we need to perform an exorcism? I think I've got some holy water in here somewhere…" Leo said, rummaging in his shell.

Lugia shook his head. "No, it's not the Ruler itself, more like…an echo, a voice spoken from far away. But an extremely compelling voice, at that."

Victini nodded. "The Ruler always did have a way with words. Ash, you're going to have your work cut out for you dealing with him if this is true."

Ash nodded. "I know. But I also know…that despite what Null says, despite my own doubts and problems…that I'm ready. That I have to be ready. Everyone is counting on me, and I will not allow myself to let anyone down." He narrowed his eyes. "Lord Null doesn't think we have what it takes to do what's necessary. Let's show him he's wrong." He raised his arm, the Key Stone gleaming on his Mega Ring.

Leo gasped. "Then…then does that mean…group henshin?!"

Ash sighed wearily. "Yes, Leo, it means group henshin."

"EEEEEEEEE-" Leo started.

"But we are not using any of the catchphrases or titles you came up with," Ash interjected quickly.

"Aww, mon, really?" Leo complained. He sighed. "Oh well, maybe next time."

"Yeah, or not," Ash said. "All right, Team Aurabolt, let's show him what we can do!" He struck a pose and touched the Key Stone.

"SET! ARE YOU READY?" an electronic voice screamed from the Mega Ring.

Boa blinked. "…Is it supposed to do that?"

"Apparently so," said Lily.

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" Leo squealed shrilly.

"Execute! Mega Evolution!" Ash shouted as he thrust the Ring into the air.

"MEGA EVOLUTION!" the Mega Ring shouted. Beams of crimson light radiated from both the Ring and Ash's body as his Lucarionite reacted to it. Incredible crimson and purple energies violently swirled around him, forming into a massive silvery sphere which swelled outwards as rings of energy circled it before shattering in a tremendous blast of power, revealing, through swirling wisps of smoke, the new Ash. He had become taller, his feet and hands turning red with a pair of spikes on the backs of his knuckles and pointing forwards from the front of his legs. Thick black lines now ran up his arms and legs, which were more muscled and powerful than ever before. His tail was now thick, bushy, and cream-colored like the fur on his chest. There was now a small spike on each of his black shoulder rings, pointing forwards. The black markings on his face were now a bit wilder and covered more of his features. His four Aura-sensing organs were now much longer and raggedy, resembling dreadlocks, with red tips. His cloak had transformed into a long black cape, and his gloves had transformed into metal gauntlets burning with the power of Aura, the crystals on their backs glowing brilliantly. His staff looked the same, but the crystal now had a multicolored energy swirl shimmering in it. A similar swirl had been incoporated into his badge, which was pulsating with the light of Aura. Ash opened his eyes, revealing they had become a bit more orange than red, the pupils a piercing blue from the power of Aura coursing through his body. He reared back his head and howled as a multicolored swirl materialized briefly over his head, Aura blasting out from him in every direction, rising into the sky in a brilliant blue beacon visible from space.

Everyone stared at Ash in awe. "Incredible…" Boa whispered.

"So this is the power of Mega Evolution?" said an amazed Dawn.

"Magnificent…what, then, will mine be like?" wondered the stunned Sasha.

"Huh. Not bad," Briney said grudgingly.

"That's Ash?! He looks…and feels so much stronger!" said an incredulous Michael.

"The power washing off of him…it's unbelievable!" Lily said.

"Duuuude…finally, he has a Super Mode of his own! About damn time!" Leo said gleefully.

"Heh. Not too shabby, Ash," Nosferatina said admiringly.

"Da-yum. It's been a long time since I've seen one of these…way, way too long," Victini said joyfully.

"Daddy…" Tiny whispered.

"Chosen One…you are one step closer to realizing your full potential," Lugia said admiringly.

"I…uh…wow…okay…that's…that's kind of cool," Misty admitted, wiping away some drool which was totally due to her being a gross zombie and not because she thought Ash looked really hot right now. Really.

"Ash…are…are you all right?" Tenjin asked.

Ash blinked and turned around. Aura was still washing off of him, but as it passed over them, they felt nothing but…calm. Affection. And pure, unmitigated power. "All right? I…I feel…" Ash started to grin. "I understand things that I could not before. I can see things that I could not before. I can gaze upon the Auras of all things without closing my eyes. I can do…things, incredible, wonderful things, things I never thought possible, things my book said even the greatest of Aura Masters had trouble with. The power of Aura is with me…now, more than ever."

"Then…your heart! Is it…" Lily asked.

Ash's grin faded slightly. "Fixed? Unfortunately, no. But…the darkness's call is lessened. The anger is still there, but I have a better grasp of it now. So long as I'm like this, there's far less of a chance of me losing it and going Void."

"That's wonderful!" Tenjin said in relief.

"Dude, we should've found one of these things ages ago!" Leo said.

Dawn nodded in agreement. "Yes, it certainly might have come in handy."

As Lord Null righted Shadow Lugia, he stared in shock at Ash. THIS POWER…NO! IT CANNOT BE! I DESTROYED ALL THE MEGA STONES!

"Yeah? Well, you missed a few," Ash said calmly as he looked at Null, Aura pulsing across his form with every breath.

"Wh-whoa!" Tiny cried as Aura suddenly started erupting around him.

"Tiny?!" Sasha cried in alarm.

"I…I feel stronger! Way stronger!" Tiny cried as Aura blossomed all around him in a magnificent blue corona, not to dissimilar from Ash's.

"It's our Aura bond…some of my excess power is passing through it to increase Tiny's strength," Ash realized.

"But I'm still not evolving! Lame!" Tiny complained.

"Don't worry, you'll get there someday," Tenjin assured the dejected Pupitar.

…MOST IMPRESSIVE, ASH, Null admitted as Shadow Lugia hissed, flinching back from the pure Aura radiating from Ash's form. BUT IT WILL TAKE MORE THAN THE POWER OF MEGA EVOLUTION FOR YOU TO DEFEAT ME!

"Then it's a good thing I'm not the only one with extra power! Guys, show him what you can do!" Ash declared.

"RIGHT!" his friends shouted as they mustered their power.

Leo whipped out his deck and slid it into his belt buckle. It clicked into place, and then the buckle began to glow. He made a series of complex hand motions and struck a pose. "Henshin!" A golden energy sphere formed around him, causing everyone to back away as two rings started rotating around its circumference. As the rings passed over Leo's body, armor materialized over it, and by the time the rings finished a full rotation and vanished along with the sphere in an explosive burst of air, Leo was now completely clad in an armored suit. Most of his body was covered in tight black form-fitting spandex with boots going up to his knees with large round gold studs over the kneecaps and bronze greaves with black circles on the sides. His torso and shoulders were covered by a black metal cuirass with a large bronze crest taking up the front vaguely resembling a bird with a gold diamond for a head and golden talons growing from the bottom sides of the cuirass. His badge, pinned just above one side of the crest, had transformed, now looking like it was made of the same bronze and gold metal as the crest, with wings resembling Choc-Oboh's mark spreading to either side of it. His shoulders were covered by gold ailettes resembling flared-out feathers with bronze pauldrons with more large round gold studs underneath them. He had bronze vambraces with round gold couters. His scarf had turned red and elongated significantly, so its ends hung down over his back, partially covering the Choc-Oboh marking, now a blazing gold. His head was covered in a gold helmet with a number of V-shaped ridges with a vague feather motif covering the upper half of his face, and a crest somewhat looking like a feather rising from the peak. The lower half of his face was covered by a faceplate with several horizontal slits running across its surface. He was still wearing his sunglasses, which had been incorporated into his helmet. One of his arms retracted into his shell and came back out with a white fedora, which he dramatically placed on his head and cocked at a jaunty angle. "The hard-boiled hot-blooded hero who walks the path of heaven! Masked Rider Phoenix! Iiiiit's Showtime!" he shouted, striking a pose as the ground exploded behind him and flames resembling Choc-Oboh briefly blazed up behind him.

"Hey! You better hope that didn't scuff my deck!" Briney barked.

A lightning bolt shot down from the heavens and struck Tenjin's blade. There was a blinding flash of light, static crackling all over the place and making everyone's fur stand on end. When the light died down, Pikachu was now clad in samurai armor that looked as if it were made from lightning made solid, arcs and spikes of electricity crackling across its otherwise solid form. A dou with the images of Raikou and Zekrom engraved into it dancing around lightning bolts covered his front. His badge had been fused to his chest armor, and now had jagged gold lightning bolts jutting from the sides in place of the usual wings. Jagged-edged kusazuri with lightning bolts engraved into each plate hung from the front and back to protect his upper legs. Haidate made of cloth that looked to be electricity turned into woven thread covered his thighs, small metal lightning bolt-shaped plates connected by chain lightning sewn into it. Suneate made of splints of metal crackling with electricity linked by chain lightning wrapped around his calves and shins, right above kogake covering his hindpaws. Sode resembling his kusazuris with large glowing spikes resembling lightning bolts growing from the tops covered his shoulders. Han kote made of lightning cloth covered in plates of solidified electricity linked by chain lightning covered his forearms. A helmet with the Thunderblade family crest on the forehead, lightning bolt horns, and a faceplate resembling a snarling Raikou covered his head, his now-yellow eyes visible through eyeholes. His tail was unarmored, but looked like it had turned into an actual lightning bolt, rather than just being shaped like one. Similarly, Thunder Fang too looked as if it were now made of pure electrical energy, crackling yellow and white rather than blue, with several glowing black runes written somehow into its side. It was also a couple of inches longer. The sword's scabbard, slung on Pikachu's back, had changed as well, lengthening to accommodate the sword's growth and turned black with gold leaf lightning bolts looking like they were actual lightning bolts rather than just designs.

"Come, Raidenryu!" Tenjin leaped off the side of the ship, landing on the head of his thunder dragon as it flew by. As Raidenryu spread its wings and rose up, he raised his sword in the air. "Warriors of the House of Thunderblade, come forth! I summon you once more to battle for honor and to smite the unrighteous!" A lightning bolt shot into the sky from the tip of his blade, then split off into dozens of smaller bolts, which manifested in the form of electric constructs of Pikachu and Raichu wearing armor similar to his own, each riding a dragon similar to Raidenryu but smaller, and all wielding a sword nearly identical to his own.

As blue-white energy pulsed around Dawn, she let out a cry and was suddenly encased in a great mass of ice. Cracks ran down the surface of the ice, and it shattered, revealing that she was wearing armor made of ice similar to the Slicer armor she'd worn when she'd been forcibly transformed into a Shadow Pokémon. However, the ice used to make this armor was blue-white, rather than black. A pair of plaques with curved blades resembling some of Kyurem's icy protrusions formed on her shoulders. Gauntlets with three curved blades each formed around her wrists. A pair of large blue-white three-clawed talons formed over each of her paws that looked like they were made of a mixture of metal and ice, with gray runes and engravings of Kyurem spiraling up the sides. Ice plates covered her hips and ice boots with three curved blades each on the greaves formed on her feet. Her badge had turned to ice as well. An ice helmet formed of layered plates with a trident-shaped ornament on the forehead and holes for her ears and red crest formed over her head, a pair of ice plates snapping into place over her face and hiding all of it except for her glowing white eyes. Similar engravings as the ones on her talons covered most of her blades and the plates making up her armor, giving her suit a rather ornate and beautiful appearance, without letting one forget that every inch of it could probably be used to kill something.

"Come, Kooryu!" Dawn leaped off the side of the ship, landing on the head of her ice dragon as it flew by. As Kooryu spread its wings and rose up, she made a complex series of hand motions. "Ninjas of the Dragon's Claw clan, come forth! I respectfully call you from your slumber so that we might strike down the enemy of our Lord!" Gusts of snowflake-laden wind billowed out from her, swirling and roiling in the air, spinning and twisting and turning in on itself until it took on the form of several dozen Pokémon clad in ninja outfits, all made of ice, all either floating in the air under their own power or riding dragons similar to Raidenryu but smaller.

Lily twirled her wand through the air. "Henshin! Power of the Fire Dragon!" With a cry, Lily burst into flames, her form vanishing in the mass of fire. The fire elongated and thinned and rising into the air in the form of a great blazing Rayquaza. A pair of flaming wings spread from the fiery Rayquaza's back, and the burning dragon screeched, suddenly exploding in a great conflagration, revealing the new Lily. Her skin had turned from purple to red and yellow. Dancing flames licked at the hems of her cloak, with the yellow ring-like symbols covering it burning in an ethereal blaze. Her tail had a flame at the end reminiscent of a Charizard's. The jewels of her necklace had become flaming balls of molten rock with burning sigils carved into their surfaces. Both of her rings were unharmed by the flames, and still embedded in the central stone of her necklace, and glowed with a light similar to yet different from the fire surrounding her. Her scarf had turned red with yellow fire motifs, and her badge looked like a piece of fire made solid somehow. Her hat turned orange with a yellow tip, had a circlet that looked as if it were made of crystallized fire with glittering rubies set into its frozen surface ringing the central part, and was embroidered with actually burning flames and images of Reshiram and Rayquaza. Her Rayquaza tattoo looked as if it were etched in flame, and seemed to be moving before their very eyes. Her pupils had vanished, leaving her with black eyes and red irises. Embers and a few balls of fire orbited her body, and a pair of small draconic wings made of fire spread from her back. "The Witch of Flames, mistress of fire and ice, proud heir to the House of Yukihimi! My heart burns with the fires of hatred for my enemies and love for my friends! I am…Inferno Lily!" she cried as she struck a sexy pose and a tremendous conflagration exploded behind her in the form of a giant fiery Rayquaza.

Leo looked like he was about to faint. "I am so in love with you right now," he squealed. Lily chuckled and kissed him, causing him to swoon.

Tenjin raised an eyebrow. "Inferno Lily? Really?"

Lily shrugged. "I thought it sounded all right."

"Oh, no doubt about that, babe!" Leo agreed giddily.

Lily raised her wand into the air, the crystal on its tip glowing. "As head of the House of Yukihimi, I call upon the pacts and treaties of my ancestors! Come forth, beings of ice and snow and fire and faerie and spirit, to fulfill your duty to your mistress!" In flashes of light and swirls of snow and bursts of flame, hundreds of ice elementals, ice dragons, fire elementals, fire dragons, ghosts, fairies, and other, stranger creatures—some Pokemon, some not-materialized in the air and on the ground. There were even some frost and fire giants!

"…You know, I'm beginning to wonder why we needed to bring an army considering we seem to be able to make our own," Boa commented.

"Eh, the more the merrier," Briney said.


"Yeah, we kind of feel the same way sometimes," Ash admitted.

"Hey!" Leo said.

"I blame Briney," Tenjin said.

"Meh," Briney said.

"And now it is my turn, I suppose," Sasha said. She struck a pose and touched the Key Stone on her Mega Ring, wrapped around her left forelimb.

"SET! ARE YOU READY?" the Ring asked.

WHAT?! A SECOND MEGA STONE?! Lord Null cried.

"Ha! What makes you think we just have two?" Leo Murkrowed.

Briney snorted. "Yeah, did you think we'd be stupid enough to come here alone?"

"Execute! Mega Evolution!" Sasha commanded as she thrust her ring into the air.

"MEGA EVOLUTION!" the Ring shouted. Beams of crimson light radiated from both the Ring and Sasha's body as her Absolite reacted to it. Incredible crimson and purple energies violently swirled around her, forming into a massive silvery sphere which swelled outwards as rings of energy circled it before shattering in a tremendous blast of power, revealing, through swirling wisps of smoke, the new Sasha. Her fur was longer overall and a pair of beautiful white wings grew from the back of her mane. The spikes on her heels and elbows were longer, and the fur in these areas was longer as well. Her sickle-shaped horn had widened, while an additional, smaller horn appeared on the opposite side of her head. Her tail had a saw-like shape, and the oval on her forehead was now a rounded triangle. Her badge was surrounded with red and black spikes, and glimmered darkly. An aura of pure darkness radiated from her as her cloak rippled and roiled around her, but unlike the vile Shadow Aura of Null or other Nihilators, it was somehow cleaner, holier…though not without a hint of mystery and terror. She raised her head and howled, robes billowing around her as a swirl of energy briefly appeared over her head.

Leo whistled. "Looking good, Sasha! Not as good as Lily, of course."

"Of course," Lily said in amusement.

"This darkness feels…familiar…I like it," Nosferatina commented.

"…She has wings now?!" Tenjin said.

"So it would seem," Dawn said.

"Coooool," Tiny said.

"Hmmph. Not too shabby," Briney said.

"She has become a true priestess of Darkrai," Lugia said admiringly.

"She wasn't before?" Michael asked.

"Well, she was, but she looks even more like one now," Lugia said.

"It feels good, doesn't it? The power of Mega Evolution?" Ash asked Sasha.

The transfigured Absol nodded in agreement, eyes filled with wonder. "The power of darkness flows through me…I know things, great and terrible and wonderful. Secrets that would drive you mad or fill you with joy. Things of nightmares and death and darkness, both good and bad. My master's strength is within me, now more than ever. My disaster-sense, my precognitive ability, is stronger than I had ever dreamed now. I can even see-" She hesitated.

"See what?" Boa asked.

"Er…the darkness that lurks within every heart," Sasha said, which was partially true, but not what she was about to say: that she now knew when every one of them was fated to die.

"Oh," Ash said.

There was a pause. "Er…is there a lot of darkness in us, then?" Victini asked uncertainly.

"Some more than others," Sasha said vaguely. "Don't worry, it's not nearly as bad as what's in Lord Null. What lies within you is but a shadow at noon compared to that. Well…except…"

"Except for me," Ash said.

Sasha bit her lip. "…Yes."

Ash sighed. "I expected as much."

"What about my heart?" Nosferatina asked.

"Yours is still mostly pure. The darkness tainting your form is…different from what I was referring to," Sasha said. "There are many shades of darkness, after all, just as there are many gradients of light. Some are better than others."

"I suppose that's true," Nosferatina admitted.


Sasha grinned savagely. "There is no need to. They're already on their way here now. You didn't think my Master wasn't going to join in on the fun, did you?"

Null stiffened. THE LUNAR ARMADA! He looked sharply up at the sky, and the fleet still in orbit. THEY'LL NEVER GET THROUGH MY DEFENSES!

"Have you seen how many ships they have?" Briney asked in disbelief.

OF COURSE I HAVE! Null snapped.

"Then you're even more delusional than we thought if you still think you can win after seeing what you're up against," the Metagross snorted.

"That's hardly a surprise, given what we've seen of him so far," Boa said.

"Sasha may not be summoning an army…but I certainly can! Even if I can't change like the others, I can certainly do that much!" Michael said as the crystal on his forehead started glowing brilliantly, a magnificent crimson star shining across the battlefield. "Spirits of Mars, arise! I call upon you to strike back against those who have desecrated your home and unbalanced your world! Arise, so that you may have your vengeance on the Nihilators!"

And rise the spirits did. They crawled from crevices in the Earth, wriggled out of rocks, spun themselves out of dust and air and ash, or just materialized out of thin air. They were grotesque in form and feature, ranging a vast gamut of shape and size, some as tiny as a Joltik and others twice the size of a Wailord, if not bigger. They were twisted and bloated, smooth and spiny, misshapen and angular, fluid and solid, their forms shifting with every breath. The only thing all of them had in common was that they were coated with black sludge that was constantly sloughing off their bodies and dripping onto the ground, staining it black and causing jagged, fuming fissures to splinter off from the point of impact. Many had massive jaws at least as big as their entire bodies gaping with fangs, and eyes glowing with a hatred so deep, so volatile, so all-consuming, that the earth sizzled beneath their baleful gaze. Even Null recoiled slightly when the spirits turned their eyes on him, hissing and writhing and shrieking and bellowing and thrashing about as they beheld the source of their anguish. WHAT…WHAT ARE THEY?!

"The spirits of Mars," Michael said, eyes hard and cold.

"The heck is wrong with them?!" Tiny demanded.

"The Nihilators have been doing horrible things to this planet for years. It only makes sense that the land's spirits would be affected as well," Lily said grimly.

"They would not look out of place in my Master's domain," Sasha commented.

"I certainly know I'm going to be seeing them in my nightmares," Leo said.


"Oh, but you should, Null," Michael snarled, narrowing his eyes. "Especially after everything else you've done to imbalance the spirit world, and torment the souls of mortals."

"An impressive showing, Michael," Boa said approvingly. "And now it is my turn."

Without warning, she jumped off the side of the ship. Nobody seemed particularly worried. It was clear to see why when her head suddenly reappeared...much larger…getting taller and rising higher as she grew in size using Growth until she was about a third again as long as the Great Peeko, though still dwarfed by many of the other giants on the field. "It's not as flashy as some of the others," she admitted loudly, her voice booming across the plains. "But I'd say it's still fairly impressive, don't you?"

"…Did we know she could get that big?" Tenjin asked.

"I don't think we did, no," said an amazed Ash.

"Not even I did," Victini admitted.

"Uh, Princess? I don't mean to criticize, but, uh…I'm not sure that was the best idea. Turning into a giant snake is a surefire way to get yourself defeated. Turning into a giant snake never ends well," Leo said.

"Leo, that's ridiculous," Michael said, oblivious to everyone's panicked looks.

Leo raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah? Tell me, then, right before Brodie got defeated, what did he turn into?"

"I don't know, I wasn't there," Michael said deadpan.

"He became a…giant…eight-headed snake monster…" Tiny said slowly.

"I rest my case," Leo said.

"Leo, that's only one instance. And she grew in size when we were fighting Arackaiser clones and did all right for herself," Dawn pointed out.

"Yes, until she got herself captured and needed to be rescued!" Leo argued.

Boa sweatdropped. "…I wasn't in that big a danger. I could probably have gotten out on my own…"

"Leo, I think that rule generally applies to villains," Lily said.

Leo frowned. "You sure about that?"

"Well, villains are the ones who usually turn into giant snake monsters, aren't they?" Lily pointed out.

"Hmm. This is true. Okay, Boa, I guess we can try this on a provisional basis, but if you get the crap beaten out of you, don't say I didn't warn you!" Leo yelled up at Boa.

"I'll…keep that in mind, Leo," Boa said, bewildered.

"Hmm. Good thing I'm going to turn into a giant Noivern, then," Nosferatina murmured to herself.

…I…WHAT? WHAT JUST- the confused Null said.

"Don't ask," Ash said wearily. "We do this all the time."


"Yes. We do," Ash said with a sigh.

AH. There was a pause. HOW DO YOU GET ANYTHING DONE?

"That is a question we ask ourselves all the time," Ash said.


"Not so fast, I haven't had a go yet!" Briney interrupted.

"Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy!" Leo squealed giddily.


"What? No, that's ridiculous. Where'd you even get an idea like that?" Briney asked, amused. "No, it's much more interesting than that."

"Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy!" Leo squealed giddily.

"Mister Barbedo, it's time," Briney called out.


"I'm beginning to think Leo is excited about something," Lugia joked.

"What was your first guess?" Ash asked wryly.

"All right, you heard the Cap'n!" Barbedo shouted on the Great Peeko's bridge. He was sitting in Briney's chair again. He probably wouldn't notice…right? "Mister Pete, are you ready?"

"Aye, Cap'n!" Fat Pete said, holding up a key.

"All right then!" Barbedo said, brandishing his own key. "Insert key!"

In unison, the two pirates inserted their keys into slots on their consoles and twisted them at the same time. Klaxons started blaring, lights flashed, and the ship began to rumble as "INITIATING TRANSFORMATIVE OPERATION: OPERATIVE TRANSFORMATION!" scrolled across the monitors.

"This is going to be awesome," Frank said gleefully.

WHAT THE- Null said as the Great Peeko started flashing and shaking.

"I'd back up if I were you," Briney said as he levitated into the air.

"Way, way back," Ash said as he hopped onto Lugia, who spread his wings and took off.

"It would be in your own best interests," Lily agreed as she quickly flew away from the ship, accompanied by Leo, who'd used his Staraptor Man card to grow wings, and Michael, who had hopped on the back of one of his summoned spirits.

WHAT IS…WHAT ARE YOU ALL- the confused Null started to say as Team Aurabolt and their allies swiftly flew away from the ship.

And then…it happened.

Suddenly, the Great Peeko was no longer floating above the plains of Mars, but sailing across a vast ocean, stars glimmering in the skies above and gleaming in the depths of the sea while dramatic music played in the background.

"Sailing across the cosmic ocean to lay the smackdown on the forces of evil…" Briney said.

As the output of the engines increased in a burst, a wave started rising beneath the ship, lifting it into the air, flinging it into space as it crested. As the great golden ship soared through the stars, the engine halo detached from the rest of the ship and expanded its circumference, spokes of light shooting out from the ring to intersect in the middle, causing it to look like a great wheel. A ship's wheel, to be precise.

"A golden, shiny beacon of hope to all those in need…" Leo said.

The Peeko's prow began to dip downwards, and as it did a remarkable transformation began to take place. The ship's bow, accounting for a whole third of its length, extended forwards slightly, still connected to the rest of the vessel's body by a thick metal joint, then split in two and flipped over, turning into a pair of legs, one much thicker than the other, which resembled a telescoping peg leg ending in a sharp point.

"A power unlike any other," Briney said.

"A ship unlike any other," Leo said.

The Peeko XII swiveled upwards ninety degrees, so its aft was further recessed into its notch and its fore was pointing outwards. The Great Peeko's sides split apart and unfolded outwards, turning into a pair of mechanical arms, the right one ending in a massive fist with a cannon perched on the knuckle, and the left ending in a great curved hook.

"The bringer of justice and the destroyer of evil, and awfully badass, too," Briney said.

A hatch opened up on the Great Peeko's stern, which was now pointing straight upwards, and a head arose from the depths, with a face looking quite a lot like Briney's, complete with incredibly sharp mustache and beard,.

"The symbol of our power, our bonds, our ability to unite and overcome all that stands before us," Leo said.

The ship's wheel spun out of the air and was caught by the transformed Peeko's right hand, which slapped it into place on a joint on the left arm, creating a shield. Light coalesced on the mecha's back, materializing into a flowing red cape with the emblem of Team Aurabolt emblazoned on it.

"The one who can turn despair into hope, and darkness into light…" Briney and Leo both said.

The giant robot landed on a rock rising from the ocean, and a giant pirate hat and a pair of triangular sunglasses fell from the sky and landed on its head and hands respectively. The robot paused for a moment to adjust the hat so it fit just so, put on the sunglasses, and then struck a pose as a giant glowing Team Aurabolt emblem appeared behind it, a flock of Wingulls flew by, and enormous waves crashed against the rock.

"DAI-PEEKOGER Z!" Leo and Briney shouted at the tops of their lungs.

The ocean returned, and they were back on Mars again…and so was the new, colossal, gleaming gold giant robot pirate standing right next to Boa. It was now slightly taller than her, though mainly because of the hat. The glare from the sunlight reflecting off the mecha's golden hull was rather blinding, and just as awe-inspiring as the robot itself. Too bad Leo was the only one wearing sunglasses.

Arackaiser stared in disbelief at what was on his monitor, as did everyone else on the Diabolus's bridge. "Zhu Bajie?" he said after a moment.

"Yes Lord Arackaiser?" Zhu Bajie said.

"Am I the only one seeing a giant golden pirate robot?" Arackaiser asked.

"No, Lord Arackaiser, you are not the only one seeing a giant golden pirate robot, for I am also seeing a giant golden pirate robot, so you are not the only one seeing a giant golden pirate robot for I can see the giant golden pirate robot as well," Zhu Bajie said.

"Ah," Arackaiser said. "That's what I thought." He pounded his armrest, startling everyone in the room. "A giant golden pirate robot! That's…that's…absolutely BRILLIANT! Why didn't I think of that?! Well played, Turtle Titan. Well played indeed!" He paused. "I was expecting it to be somewhat turtley in nature, though. Ah well, this works too."

Michael glanced around in confusion. "What happened to the ocean? Where did it come from in the first place?"

"Oh, that was just an illusion created by the Peeko's hologram projectors," Leo explained.

"Ah," Michael said. "Why?"

"Because you can't have a great giant robot transformation without a great CGI transformation sequence!" Leo said.

"Ah. Of course," Michael said dazedly, his head hurting too much from the glare reflecting off the mecha to care.

Lord Null stared. He blinked. He stared some more. The giant impossible robot refused, against all common sense, to disappear. WHAT.

"Yeah, we get that a lot," Ash said from Lugia's back.

"Often times from ourselves," Tiny said.

WHAT…WHAT IS…WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN… Null stammered, completely and utterly gobsmacked.

"…I think you broke him," Victini said, impressed.

"Leo has that effect on other people," Dawn said.

"Though often us," Tenjin added.

"Hey!" Leo said. "May I point out this was as much Briney's idea as mine?"

"Not a bad likeness, is it?" Briney asked, admiring the robot's face and comparing it to his own.


"Because Leo and Briney are completely insane," Sasha said.

"Hey!" Leo and Briney both said.

"You kind of are," Michael said.

"…Heh. Kid's got us there," Briney said in amusement. Leo huffed.


"Because Leo thought it would be cool for us to have a giant transforming robot, and Briney thought it would be a good test of his skills to build one, and…here we are," Boa said.

THE…THE TRANSFORMING ROBOT I CAN ALMOST UNDERSTAND… Null said weakly, his already tenuous hold on sanity starting to fray. BUT WHY…WHY IS IT A PIRATE?!

"Because we made it out of a super-awesome pirate ship, obviously," Leo said, rolling his eyes.

Briney nodded. "Yes, to make it out of anything else just wouldn't be sensible, now would it?" A strangled choke from Null was indicative that the Nihilator leader did not quite agree.

"A better question than 'why is there a giant golden pirate robot standing before him' might be, 'why on Mars did you give us time to transform it, let alone do our own transformations, as well as summoning our own armies,'" Nosferatina said.

"Oh, that's easy, Transformation-" Leo started.

"Is a Free Action!" Lily finished. They looked at each other and laughed.

"Huh?" Nosferatina said.

"Don't ask," Tenjin said. "Just…don't."

"You know, the fact that he's just as flummoxed as nearly everyone else by our antics makes me suddenly feel a lot better about us fighting him," Ash commented to Lugia.

Lugia nodded in agreement. "Indeed. Seeing him at a complete and utter loss for words takes away some of his dread, doesn't it? But be wary, Ash. Do not underestimate him."

"I won't," Ash said. "I never will."

"Good boy," Misty snarked, staring at the Dai-Peekoger Z. "…How the hell did they MAKE that thing, anyway?!"


"We've been level-grinding up the wazoo! Have you?" Leo asked.


"You are aware that we defeated the last fleet you threw at us with even less of a force than this, and we were all a lot weaker back then, right?" Sasha said, her new wings proving to be more than just decoration and granting her the power of flight. She wasn't sure she liked it that much. She had to keep concentrating so she didn't think about how very high up she was and how very far below her the ground was, even though Darkrai kept assuring her she couldn't actually die if she fell.


"You're right," Ash said, much to Null's surprise. "Even with all our new power, we might not be able to beat you."

"Now, Ash, I think you're selling yourselves a bit short!" Victini said with a grin.

"Yeah, I probably am," Ash agreed. "But, just to be safe…yeah, this isn't all we've got to use against you."

…OF COURSE IT ISN'T, Null said resignedly. WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE?

"Why is he letting us keep bringing things out to surprise him rather than just attacking-" Michael asked.

"SHHH! Don't give him any ideas!" Leo hissed.

"Lily?" Ash said.

Lily nodded. "Right!" The Master portalstone Fantina had given her appeared before her, and with a spark of magic, activated.

The effects were instantaneous. Space to the left of Team Aurabolt and their allies' forces warped and rippled and suddenly tore open, creating an absolutely massive portal hundreds of meters high and half as wide through which a huge army marched and flew through. Then space to the left of that portal warped and rippled and tore open, and another portal formed, and another huge army marched and flew through. And then space to the left of that portal tore open, and to the left of that one, and to the left of that one, and so on and so forth, as Lord Null and the other Nihilators watched in horror and the heroes with growing delight as army after army after army materialized on the plains of Mars, portals continuing to open in a massive chain that wrapped around the volcano and came to an end just to the right of them. There were now hundreds of thousands, no, millions of Pokémon arrayed for battle, wearing the colors of just about every nation on Earth. And there weren't just soldiers, but tanks, and airships, and battleships, and giant robots, and giant monsters, and countless other formidable weapons of mass destruction and warfare.

By the time all the armies had assembled, Victini was drooling and her eyes were wide with joy, everyone else was staring in wonder and a little trepidation, and if Lord Null's mask had allowed it, his jaw would have dropped right to the ground hundreds of meters below. THIS…THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE. NOT POSSIBLE. NOT POSSIBLE…

"Oh, I'd say it's very possible," Ash said smugly.

"To be honest, I'm having trouble believing it too," Michael said. "There's so many of them…I didn't even know this many Pokémon could exist in one place or time!"

"Well, there's several billion Pokémon living back home, and this is just a fraction of it," Boa said.

"It's a big fraction," Michael said.

"That it is," Boa agreed.

"I knew we'd be getting help from lots of people…but I didn't really think this many would show up," said an amazed Tiny. "With an army this size, are we even really needed here?"

"Yes," Briney said.

"Yeah, you're probably right," Tiny admitted.

"We sent out the call to aid to people all over the world…and people from all over the world answered," Nosferatina said in wonder. "All these Pokémon, all these countries, working together for a common goal…magnificent."

"Haha! Look! There's the Fichinan forces!" Victini Murkrowed, pointing to an army some distance away, clustered around a small group of massive Colossi. "Those are my boys!"

"Many of whom are good friends of mine," Boa said, extending a whip to wave at them.

"I helped build the ships they're using myself," Briney said proudly. "Well, Smithy did, anyway."

"And there are the Draconians!" Lily said, pointing to a massive group of Ghost and Dragon-types. "Wow, they really went all out…my father must be so disappointed he could not come."

"Sucks to be him," Victini said cheerfully.

"Oh wow, just look at all those really colorful giant robots!" Tiny said.

Tenjin sighed. "Why do we even have giant robots?! We're Pokémon! The strongest of us can change the weather, reshape the land, and even alter the fabric of reality with a whim!"

"Because giant robots are cool, obviously," Victini said. Tenjin facepalmed.

Leo started squealing shrilly. "Especially these giant robots and not-quite robotic vehicles! Omigoshomigoshomigosh it's the Poké Rangers! Well, some of them, anyway! There's the Gorangers, and J.A.Q.K., and Battle Fever L, and Moon Vulcan, and Changemon, and Flashmon, and Denzimon, and Livemon, and Fivemon, and Jetmon, and Mighty Morphing, and Thunder Morphing, and Ninja Morphing, and Alien, and Zeo, and Turbo, and Space, and Lost Galaxy, and Lightspeed Rescue, and Time Force, and Astro Squad Sigma, and Boukengers, and Gokaigers, and Go-Busters, and is that Masked Rider Fourze and his girlfriend Nadeshiko?! Well, I guess that makes sense, he is space-themed, and she's an alien. Oh mon, I want their autographs! And...wait…is that the Space Ironmon Kyodein? AND SPACE SHERIFF GAVIN?! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE EEEE!"

"Somebody's happy," Lily said in amusement.

"Yes, I am!" Leo cried giddily.

"Have these superheroes always existed in real life? How did I not know about them?" asked a confused Ash.

"Do you watch the news?" Briney asked.

"…Er…not so much, no," Ash admitted.

"There you go, then," the Metagross said.

"What are they doing here?" Tenjin asked in distaste. "Shouldn't they be, I don't know, killing some giant monster or something?"

"Actually, while Poke Rangers generally fight giant monsters after defeating their initial normal-sized form, other heroes such as the Masked Riders or Space Ironmons only rarely fight giant monsters, most of the time they're normal-sized, though in certain situations-" Leo started.

"I don't care!" Tenjin shouted.

"They are defenders of the Earth as well. It makes sense that they would be here, to protect our world," Lugia said.

"Especially since several of them are actually working for the militaries of their countries, so could easily be deployed here," Boa said.

Victini nodded. "Fichina has its own Ranger team reporting directly to the Queen, but she sent them to Pokémon Square because she felt they'd be needed more there."

"I…suppose…" Tenjin said through gritted teeth. He sighed. "Oh well, at least the Musirangers aren't here."

"Yeah, because they're performing in Pokémon Square right now," Tiny said.

Tenjin stiffened. "What?"

"Oh mon, I forgot about that! Wish I could see it…" Leo complained. "Oh well, good thing I remembered to record the livestream."

"Wait, what was that about performing in Pokémon Square?!" Tenjin cried.

"Don't you remember? They're putting on a goodwill concert right now to support the war," Ash said.

Tenjin's face paled. "…They're…they're in our town?! Oh sweet Arceus, we're not going to have a home to go back to!"

"Isn't that kind of an exaggeration?" Tiny asked.

"Yeah! Well…except the Musirangers do have a rather unfortunate habit of wrecking whatever city they're fighting in almost beyond recognition…but hey, they're a rock band, what do you expect?" Leo said. Tenjin made a strangled sob but said no more.

"Hey, I'm sure it'll be okay…I think…" Ash said awkwardly.

"Uh, moving on, I think that's…" Victini narrowed her eyes at another army close by. "Wait a second…I don't think I recognize those Pokémon…"

"Hold up…big white ships…giant robot scorpions…holy crap, is that Judgment?!" Leo cried.

Ash's head whipped around. "Judgment?! As in, those guys Ritchie and his crew fight?"

"It certainly looks like it," said an astonished Dawn.

"What are they doing here?" Boa wondered.

"The same thing everyone else is, I suppose," Lugia said. "Fighting to defend our world."

"No, I mean, what are they doing here? No portalstones were issued to New Eden. They aren't recognized as a country by the international community," Boa said.

"Oh," Lugia said. "Er…maybe they stole one?"

Lily's frown deepened. "That's…not good. If one portalstone was stolen, then others might have been taken as well."

"Yeah, but they were all set to go off at the same time, weren't they? So what good would it do for anyone who didn't intend to come here and fight anyway?" Ash asked.

"…I am uncertain. But…it is possible for the magics to be perverted in ways which might not be beneficial to us…" Lily said uneasily.

"That's something we'll have to look into later," Tenjin said. "I'm not exactly happy to have a bunch of crazy people who want to 'save the world' through violent means here…but they've helped before, so I guess we can deal with them…for now."

"Especially since Team Getem's with them," Ash said, narrowing his eyes.

"What, really?!" Tenjin asked in surprise.

Ash nodded. "Yeah. I can see them from here, along with a bunch of Pokémon I don't recognize, standing on the command ship. All of them are wearing Plate armor."

"…Plate armor as in, armor made out of metal plates, or…" Tenjin asked slowly.

"Armor made from the Plates of Arceus," Ash said.

"Ah. That's what I was afraid of," Tenjin said with a grimace.

"You can really see that far away, Ash?" Michael asked.

Ash nodded. "I can do a lot of things now I couldn't before."

Lugia stirred. "Yes…I can sense their power…that's definitely the Plates."

"And all seventeen of them, at that," Victini said, impressed. "They haven't been gathered in one place in a very, very long time. This should prove most interesting…"

"But why is Getem with Judgment in the first place? I thought they were enemies," Sasha said.

"Ritchie said before he left he was going to try and find them and convince them to help us out," Leo said. "Guess he succeeded."

"Cap'n, we're getting hails from all those blokes that just popped up around us," Barbedo spoke up through Briney's badge. "There's hundreds of 'em! And they're all pledging their support and saying they're ready to kick some Nihilator tail!"

"Heh. Good. There's certainly a lot of tail for them to kick," Briney said in amusement.

"We're also getting a request from some 'Ritchie' guv who wants to talk to Ash," Barbedo said.

Ash's ears perked up at this. "Patch him through."

"Hey, Ash! Long time no see!" Ritchie's voice spoke up through Ash's badge.

Ash grinned in delight. "Ritchie! The same could be said of you. How are you, mon?"

"Not bad, not bad. I was able to get Plates for the rest of my team, save Melody, get her a Plate, and now I'm working together with Light of Justice to destroy the Nihilators," Ritchie said.

"You sure you can trust him?" Ash asked in concern.

"Yeah, there's nothing to worry about. He's a real honorable, trustworthy guy, like us. He's here because he wants to destroy evil and protect the planet, like we do, even if he has a somewhat different way of doing it. We've come to an…understanding of sorts," Ritchie said.

"You haven't…you haven't joined him, have you?" Ash asked in alarm.

"What?! No, no, no. We're just friends now, is all. And…I may be doing a few things to help him out after this is over, but no, I'm not joining Judgment. And he's not getting my Plate, or the others, unless we feel like giving them to him. He was even nice enough to lend us ones that would work for our Types. He's on the level, trust me on this," Ritchie said.

"Well…okay, if you say so," Ash said.

"And it looks like you managed to get yourself a power-up of some kind, too! What did you do to yourself?" Ritchie asked.

"It's a little thing called 'Mega Evolution,'" Ash said with a grin.

"Mega Evolution? Whoa, really? I thought that was just a myth! Damn, I wouldn't mind some of that for myself…" Ritchie said.

"You already have a magical suit of armor. I don't think you have anything to be envious of," Ash said flatly.

Ritchie chuckled. "Heh, true enough. Oh, and Zippo says he's insanely jealous about your giant golden pirate robot."

"You bet I am! I can't believe I didn't think of something like that sooner!" Zippo's voice shouted over the badge.

"Sorry, buddy, you missed your chance. Should've built a giant robot while you were in New Eden with the rest of your pals, I guess," Leo said with a grin.

"Gah! Don't think this is over! After this, I'm going to build my own giant robot, except it's going to be a giant silver ninja, and then we'll have them duke it out to see who's the best!" Zippo vowed.

"Sure thing. Too bad it's going to be me," Leo said smugly.

"Ahem. Us. I had a big hand in making that thing too, you know," Briney said.

"Er, right. Us," Leo said.

"And that's not all! Our entire teams will fight each other!" Zippo continued.

"Wait, we will?" Ritchie asked in confusion.

"Why would we do something like that?" asked a perplexed Ash.

"To see who's the best, of course!" Zippo said.

Leo rolled his eyes. "Like, yeah, obviously." Ash's eye twitched.

"We'll, uh, talk about it later by which I mean never," Ritchie said testily. "Anyway, Ash…good luck. I've found a way to resolve things with my archenemy. Now it's time for you to do the same."

Ash nodded in agreement, turning his gaze back to Lord Null. "Yeah. It is."


"Magic," Lily said with a grin.


"Magic," Lily repeated.

"I don't think he's asking how they got here, he's asking where we got so many," Tenjin said.

"You have made enemies in every nation on Earth. You have turned the population of our entire world against you. Is it really such a shock to think that they would send as many troops as they could muster against you?" Dawn said smugly.

"You've tried for many years to destroy the world…and now the world in turn seeks to destroy you. Fitting, isn't it?" Sasha said.

"You know, Null, you've actually done more for world peace by presenting a common enemy for everyone to rally against than diplomats and other politicans have managed for years!" Victini said. "Why, if I didn't know better, I'd say that was your plan all along!" She paused. "That, uh, wasn't your plan all along, right?"


"Oh, good," Victini said in relief.


"What do you mean?" Ash asked with a frown.


"…Oooh, that's a good point," Tiny said in concern.

"I doesn't matter how much negative energy this fight generates, so long as you don't get the chance to use it!" Tenjin said.

YOU STILL THINK YOU CAN DEFEAT ME, THEN? Null asked in amusement.

"We have a bigger army and powers capable of matching your own," Dawn said.

"And a giant golden pirate robot!" Leo said.

"And a giant golden pirate robot," Dawn added.


Lily grinned. "About that…"


"You're right, we don't," Victini agreed.

"My master on the other hand…" Sasha said smugly. She glanced upwards. "Ah, and there he is. About time."

YOUR MASTER? ABOUT…WHAT DO YOU… Null glanced upwards. He nearly fell off of Shadow Lugia in shock. NO…NO!

Up in space, the majority of the Nihilator fleet hovered in orbit above Mars, their fearsome weapons pointed both at the world below and into space. They had been just as startled as the forces around Coronet Mons by the arrival of the Great Peeko and the Martian flotilla, but were ready to open fire and wipe them off the face of the planet the instant Lord Null gave the signal.

Unfortunately, they weren't going to get that signal anytime soon. Mainly because they were no longer alone up in space. One second, they had been the only ships for millions of miles of the red planet. The next, there were suddenly a few billion warships, some red and black and spiky and nasty, others blue and pink and yellow and curved and beautiful, bearing down on them, swirling like a galaxy around a ridiculously massive spherical white vessel covered in elegant crystalline spires with unimaginably complex elegant gold traceries forming intricate patterns across its surface, culminating in a massive glowing emblem of Arceus' Wheel with a silhouette of Mew in its center covering a full eighth of the gargantuan ship's surface. The invaders opened fire on the Nihilator fleet, and the Nihilators quickly scrambled to defend themselves, all thoughts of the impending battle on the planet below forgotten as they desperately fought for their lives against the relentless hordes of the Moon.

Darkrai, Cresselia, and Ho-Oh stood in the enormous command center for the giant spherical warship, an incredibly complex network of platforms, bridges, spheres, cubes, and other shapes made of crystal and metal and stone and dreams made solid hovering in the center of a tremendous spherical chamber with hexagonal panels lining the walls. Some were screens showing what was going on outside the ship, others were passages leading elsewhere in the vessel, and others still seemed to be portals leading to other places entirely. Consoles and machinery millions if not billions of years beyond Earthly science dotted the network making up the command center, growing organically (sometimes literally) from the surfaces of the various solid shapes or hovering suspended in the air. Clefairy of light and dark variants, Fairy-type Pokémon, and other, stranger creatures that would not look out of place in the realm of dreams monned the consoles and instruments, flitting from place to place as needed. The three Legendaries were seated on a platform overlooking all the others, giving them a grand view of the operations of the super-ship as well as what was going on outside through a variety of floating monitors and windows. "She still performs wonderfully, doesn't she, Cressy?" Darkrai asked, lovingly stroking a nearby panel. "We haven't taken her out in…what, twenty million years now? And she still runs as smoothly as the day she first came out of the factory."

Cresselia nodded in agreement. "You can't beat Celestial engineering. The NIhilators certainly can't." Husband and wife laughed at this.

Ho-Oh stomped her foot angrily, talons gouging at the floor, which filled in the scratches she left almost as quickly as she made them. "When am I going to get my chance at Null? You promised me I'd get to kill some Nihilators with my own claws and beak, not just sit here and watch!"

"There's lots of people who'd be rather honored to be here, you know," Darkrai said. "We have prime seats for the end of the Nihilators, from the heart of the greatest battleship to ever be constructed."

"Battleship schmattleship, I want blood!" Ho-Oh snarled. "Why don't you let me out so I can take down some of those capital ships out there? They won't be a match for me!"

"Because you'll suffocate and die, and regenerate, and suffocate and die again, horribly and agonizingly?" Cresselia said.

Ho-Oh snarled and smashed a control panel, which mended itself almost instantly. "Grah! Stupid corporeal limits…this wouldn't have been a problem back in the day, before we had to limit ourselves to using such lesser matter for our bodies!"

"We make do with what we've got," Darkrai said. "Don't worry, once we're in range we can beam you down to the planet, and you can content yourself by killing all the Nihilators you want."

"Do try to control your temper and not kill anyone else?" Cresselia pleaded the phoenix. "Quite a lot of Pokémon down there are on our side, after all."

"I make no promises," Ho-Oh said curtly. "If they're too slow or stupid to stay out of my way, I won't be held accountable for what happens to them."

Cresselia sighed. "Think we should kill her a few times until she regenerates with a more pleasant personality?" she muttered to her husband.

"Nah, that'd take too long. Besides, she's more likely to kill a greater number of Nihilators like this," Darkrai reasoned.

"I suppose so…" Cresselia grumbled. She sighed. "Can't say I don't envy her, though. If we weren't needed to operate this beauty, I'd be out there as well, eviscerating Null for what they've done to me and so many others."

"Well, that's what avatars are for," Darkrai said as a second Darkrai rose from his shadow.

Cresselia grinned as a second Cresselia formed out of moonlight beside her. "That they are."

Back on the planet below, something could be seen passing across the face of the sun, blotting out the light and casting the plains of Mars into darkness. Nosferatina sighed happily as the light faded away. "Aaaahhhhhhhhhh…much better. I don't mind the Sun much, but the darkness is far more soothing to my skin."

"Darkrai must be using a very powerful spell to create an artificial eclipse like that," Michael said in awe.

"Oh, it's not a spell," Sasha said. "He and Cresselia moved their flagship into orbit to block the Sun."

"…Their flagship is that big?!" Michael asked.

"Well, it should be. It's the size of the Moon, after all," Lugia said. He paused. "Well, technically, it is the Moon."

"They moved the MOON?!" Michael cried.

"Uh, don't we need the Moon back home? For, like…tides and…stuff?" Tiny asked vaguely.

"Oh, the Moon's still back on Earth, er, orbiting it," Victini said. "They just…ah…split it apart, flew their flagship out, and then sealed it up again."

"And brought the entire Lunar Armada with them," Sasha said. "I think your own fleet's going to be a bit too busy fighting my Master's forces to deal with us, Null."

"Not to mention that, with the Sun gone, it's going to be a lot easier for me and my kin to use our full powers," Nosferatina said, dark energy crackling around her form. Her wings spread, enlarged, and then wrapped themselves around her body, completely enveloping her in their folds. Black bat Pokémon materialized from thin air and clustered around her, shrieking and hissing, as they interlocked their wings and talons and solidified into a massive sphere of utter darkness. Jagged cracks started zigzagging across the surface of the sphere, eerie purple light shining from within, before the sphere abruptly shattered, revealing that the Gardevoir vampire queen had transformed into an enormous Noivern. A long black barbed tail swished out behind her, crimson spines lining the back. Her digitigrade legs ended in a pair of crimson talons each; with crimson spines jutting out of her joints, thighs, and heels. Just about every inch of her skin was covered in purple and black plate armor with eyes, fangs, and monstrous faces engraved on them. Her torso was covered in segmented armor resembling a demonic visage not too dissimilar from her face as a Gardevoir, with a massive mouth full of interlocking crimson fangs covering her midriff and a jagged crimson horn growing from between the glowing yellow eyes. Long black hair jutted out from around her neck and ran down her back, crimson spikes emerging from the mane here and there. Her arms had become a pair of massive purple and black wings with crimson talons, and six smaller wings, also with talons, grew from her back and sides. Her head was black and draconic, with a mouth full of crimson fangs, a V-shaped crimson crest adorning her forehead with jagged spikes emerging from it to give it the appearance of a crown, slitted red eyes, and a pair of big round ears resembling speakers. There were also a few Zubat wing-shaped protrusions growing from the side of her head. She threw back her head and shrieked, her voice echoing across the field of battle.

"…Wow," said Ash. "She, uh, she couldn't do that before."

"That's. Uh. That's new for her," Tenjin agreed, eyes wide.

"Incredible…" Dawn said.

"So this is the power of the Queen of the Vampires…" Lily said.

"Coooooool," Leo said.

"Did you know she could do that? I didn't know she could do that," Michael said, dazed.

"Meh. I've seen weirder," Briney said dismissively.

"I'm still bigger," Boa said defensively.

"Such magnificent darkness…" Sasha said.

"Glad she's on our side…" Victini muttered.

"Let us hope she stays that way…" Lugia said warily.


"There are a lot of things I can do now that I could not the last time we fought. Olrox? Joachim? I think it's time for you to come out and play!" Nosferatina screeched.

"YES, MISTRESS!" bellowed the monstrous Quagsire and Manectric as they materialized in a flurry of shrieking bats, hovering in the air on either side of their queen.


"Oh, I just gave them a taste of my blood," Nosferatina said.

"It was delicious," Olrox said, licking his lips.

"And now we have the power to make you and your followers pay for the suffering you have inflicted on us, our Mistress, and all the others!" Joachim snarled.


"Oh, we have no intention of killing you, unless there's no other option," Nosferatina said.

"Yeah, we're basically just going to beat you to a pulp until you're begging me to purify you and put you out of your misery…so that I can finally have my brother back," Ash snarled.


"You're right, Null, it's not," Ash said, nodding.

I THOUGHT SO, Null said smugly.

"May I ask one question, though?" Sasha asked.

"You just did," Tiny pointed out.

Sasha rolled her eyes and continued. "What hostages are you speaking of?"


"Oh, no, I can see just fine," Sasha said.

"Yeah, and there's nobody there," Tenjin said.


"Yes, that would be clever, except there really isn't anyone over there," Lugia said in amusement. "Aside from your own forces, that is."

"And if you don't believe us, you can check with your super-Psychic powers or something," Leo said.

FINE. I WILL. Null checked. Then he double-checked. Then he triple-checked. He couldn't pick up the brainwaves of the prisoners he'd chained up on the slopes of Coronet Mons. He couldn't even pick up the chips he'd planted in them for tracking and control purposes. WHERE ARE THEY?! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!

"You really shouldn't have let us talk for so long, change forms, and call in reinforcements, Null," Lily said with a grin. "It gave some of our other friends plenty of time to rescue your hostages."


"You're absolutely right again, Null. Our friends haven't had time to penetrate your fortress to rescue your prisoners," Dawn said.

"Mainly because they didn't need to," Nosferatina said. "Remember how you accused me of being involved with a group of rebels you were convinced were somehow sabotaging your efforts and managing to escape your notice even though you controlled every inch of the stronghold?"

YES, Null said.

"Well, as it turns out…" Nosferatina grinned sinisterly, eyes gleaming. "You were absolutely right."

And that's when the first explosions started. About a twentieth of the ships and mechas collapsed, explosions bursting out in multiple places along their hulls, falling to the ground and crushing any Nihilator too slow to get out of the way, and destroying several dozen additional mechas and ships thanks to close proximity and the domino effect. Explosions broke out on the mountain too, and rockslides started rolling down the slopes as something started wreaking havoc within the summit.

Within the base, Nihilators panicked as the mountain shook, alarms blaring all over the place. A Watchog in one of the security rooms frantically tried to coordinate efforts and make sense of what he was seeing on the dozen or so monitors depicting uttermost chaos throughout the facility. "B Squad, there's a prisoner outbreak on level 57, kill switches are not working, lethal force is authorized…F Squad, there's a slave revolt in mine shaft 89-C, kill switches are not working, lethal force is authorized…L Squad, a massive fire is heading for the ammunition bay on level 13, fire suppression systems are not operational, I repeat, not operational…Z Squad, P Squad is being overrun, kill switches are not working, they need reinforcements stat, lethal force is authorized…W Squad, I Squad, O Squad, there are Pokémon trying to break into Lord Null's quarters, Arackaiser's lab, and the Maximum Security Solitary Confinement Wing to presumably release the Zeta-Zeta class prisoners, kill switches are not working, lethal force is authorized…X Squad, B Squad was just wiped out by the escaped prisoners on level 57, get there stat, kill switches are not working, lethal force is authorized…dammit, what the Abyss is going on here?! How are they doing this?! They're beaten, weakened, half-starved, and we have all sorts of mind control drugs and chips and other crazy stuff put into them! They shouldn't be this strong, let alone this coordinated!"

"It looks as if they've been planning this for a long time…they certainly seem to have knowledge of layout, weapons caches, and other information which only higher-level operatives should be aware of," the Watchog's partner, a Ferrothorn, commented.

"But what person with access to that kind of information would give it away to worthless peons like them?!" the Watchog wondered. The Ferrothorn shrugged. "Ugh, dammit, X Squad's almost dead now. Sending in the spiders." He pressed a button on his control panel. On the monitor showing the carnage going on in level 57, hundreds of robotic spiders crawled out of the walls and floors, made their way towards the rebels…and marched right past them, climbing onto what was left of X Squad and eating them alive. "THE FUCK?! They've reprogrammed the spiderbots too?! That's not possible!" Out of his peripheral vision, he noticed that one of his security monitors had just gone blank, followed by another, then another. "Oh great, now they're taking out the cameras, too!"

The Ferrothorn squinted. "I don't think the cameras are out. We're still getting a feed. It's just become dark where they are. Very dark."

"Dark?" The Watchog frowned and flipped a few switches. "Switching to night vision."

Immediately, a green filter appeared over the monitors that had gone black. The resulting images were rather…shocking in their brutality. Bodies littered the hallways in various states of disrepair. They had been mangled, dismembered, shredded, crushed, mutilated, and other forms of brutalization as months if not years of pent-up rage was finally released. Blood and organs stained the walls and floor and ceiling. Pokémon scurried about, but there was something…odd about them, something monstrous and terrifying, something that made even the hardened Watchog, who had cheerfully committed a fair number of atrocities of his own over the years, to break out in a cold sweat. Using the blood and entrails of the slain Nihilators, they were painting messages on the wall, things like DOWN WITH THE NIHILATORS and DEATH TO NULL and FREEDOM and REVOLUTION! And GLORY TO THE TEACHER and, chillingly, LONG LIVE THE QUEEN. "The hell is going on?" he whispered.

He quickly spotted another monitor, one that had been showing O Squad rushing down a corridor towards the Maximum Security Solitary Confinement Wing, go dark and immediately switched on the night-vision filter just in time to see an army of monstrous Pokémon led by a Skitty he thought he recognized as a lower-ranking flunky named Lovrina who'd never qualified for Shadow Pokémon treatment and a Kecleon slave she'd taken as her sex toy graphically massacre O Squad in a manner so violent and savage he had to struggle not to throw up. As if sensing his horror, Lovrina looked up into the camera and smiled, revealing bloodstained fangs…

Very long fangs…

Wait a minute. "Vampires," he whispered in disbelief. "They've got vampires on their side! Tons of them! But…but that's not possible, after that Gardevoir bitch escaped, the only vampires left in the base were the ones in Arackaiser's lab, and they're still there, so there's no way anyone else could have been vampirized, unless…"

"Unless she had help?" the Ferrothorn said.

"Yes, unless she had…help…" the Watchog said slowly, suddenly realizing his partner's eyes had turned red and he'd sprouted fangs. "…Oh."

"Yes," the Ferrothorn said. "Oh."

"…I, uh, don't suppose you might be convinced to let me go? Or maybe convert me?" the Watchog asked nervously. "I mean, we've been working together for years…"

"I never liked you, and you called my Mistress a bitch," the Ferrothorn said. "That insult can never be forgiven."

The Watchog sighed. "Right. I figured as much. Um. Could you at least make it quick, then?"

"Very well," the Ferrothorn said, wrapping his tentacles around his ex-partner to hold him in place. He opened his mouth, fangs glistening. "Long live the Queen."

And then he fed. It was quick, but far from painless.


"You were right," Nosferatina said. "There was a rebellion under your nose the entire time. They were able to get samples of my blood and used it to vampirize themselves to boost their strength and break free from your control."


"Your security systems are only as good as the people controlling them. Get control of them, and suddenly things become a whole lot easier," Nosferatina said smugly. "As for the rest…how they evaded your scans and chips, how they were able to move and work in secrecy for so long…they had help from a certain prisoner in the Maximum Security Solitary Confinement Wing, possibly the most dangerous prisoner you ever held aside from myself." She smirked. "You know, if you'd locked me up there instead of putting me in your lab, where I had access to all kinds of secrets, things might have gone a lot better for you."


"Yes. Him," Nosferatina said.


"Yes, well, you didn't try hard enough," Nosferatina said. "And now those whom you have shackled are throwing off the yoke of oppression and rising up against you. This is a day that has been a long, long time coming. How does it feel, Null? To know that you are powerless, that all your plans are in shambles, that your forces have been compromised, that the entire world has united, marched to your doorstep, and is demanding your head? How does it feel to know that you've lost?"


Tiny snorted. "Oh, give it a rest! You're outnumbered, overpowered, and fighting on like three fronts!"

"It's over, Null. You have already lost, but are simply too stubborn to admit it," Lugia said.

"Hardly a surprise. Your fate was sealed the moment I took up arms against you," Victini bragged.

"Me too," Briney added.

"Last chance, Null. Surrender now, and we can resolve this with minimal bloodshed," Ash said.


Ash blinked in surprise. "What the-"

PAY NO ATTENTION! DO NOT LISTEN TO You have done well, Ash, you and your friends. Never in my wildest dreams SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP could I have ever imagined you would accomplish a miracle of this RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH magnitude. I am truly honored to call you my friend NO NO NO NO NO and brother."

"…What the heck's going on now?!" Tenjin asked.

"It seems to me that the stress has caused him to have a complete mental breakdown," Olrox said in amusement.

"Couldn't have happened to a worse psychopath," Joachim said happily.

"No…there's more to this than just him losing his mind…" Briney said, narrowing his eyes.

Ash gasped. "Wait…that's not Null, or not just Null, but-"

"Mewtwo!" Nosferatina cried.

Null nodded, or half of his head tried to, the other half was shaking violently. "Indeed, it is I, Nosferatina my DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU TO THE ABYSS! Love. In his fury and shock, Lord Null has lost his grip over me GET BACK WHERE YOU BELONG! But only for a moment. He will resume his power over me again, thanks to the other's influence inside of us YOU LIE! THERE IS NOBODY INSIDE OUR HEAD BUT US! I AM THE MASTER OF MY FATE! But while I am able to speak, know this: I promise you that I shall fight him with every fiber of my being, keep him off-guard, do whatever I can to make it impossible for him to win I WILL CRUSH YOU! I WILL CRUSH YOU AND ALL THE REST!"

"Don't worry, my love! We'll get him out of there! We will restore your freedom to you!" Nosferatina vowed.

"I have the utmost faith you will NO, YOU WON'T! YOU WON'T! I believe in you, all of you. You have done so much and come so far, further than I could have ever hoped AND HERE IS WHERE THEY SHALL FAIL! If anyone can save me, it is you. It would not be the first time, after all…right, Ash?" Mewtwo said.

"…I'll save you. I give you my word as an Aura Guardian, no, as your brother," Ash said. "I will save you."

"I know you will HE WON'T! HE WILL DIE HERE! Null roared. "But if you fail- AS HE WILL!"

"I won't," Ash said.

"He won't," Lugia agreed.

"He won't," Nosferatina and everyone else added.

"He will."

"Listen to me, dammit SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP if you should fail, Ash, then you must not hesitate, for Null will not NO, I WILL NOT! And I can only hold him back so much NOT ENOUGH! NEVER ENOUGH! If there is no other option, then you must do what is necessary and DIE put an end to me, to us before my body can be used to perpetrate any more evil NOBODY IS USING ME! Null shouted, though whether it was to everyone else, to Mewtwo, or to himself, it wasn't clear.

"…I won't make that promise," Ash said.

"WHAT?" Null and Mewtwo asked in unison.

"Ash?" Tenjin asked in concern.

"I won't make that promise…because I'm not going to need to. I'm going to save you, brother. That's all there is to it," Ash said confidently.

"…Heh. Spoken like a true COMPLETE AND UTTER IDIOT hero, Ash. Very well, then. I look forward to your imminent COMPLETE AND UTTER DESTRUCTION victory. And afterwards, we can focus our efforts on the true enemy ENOUGH! ENOUGH! ENOUGH! Shrieking with rage, Shadow Aura boiling off of him, Null's left arm shot out, dug its claws into his right arm, and started ripping off massive strips of armor and flesh, blood splattering his armor and Shadow Lugia's back. Screams rang through the air, both his own and Mewtwo's, as he ripped and tore and gouged and pulled, until finally his right eye became red once more, and his grossly mutilated right arm dangled limply against his side, looking like it was only being held on by a few threads and pieces of metal, though the skin was already gradually starting to grow back. THERE. I…I AM IN CONTROL…I AM THE MASTER OF MY FATE…THIS BODY…IS MINE…AND NOBODY ELSE'S…

Everyone stared in horror. Tiny threw up. "For once," Olrox said slowly. "The sight of so much blood does not appeal to me."

"He is truly and utterly mad," said a horrified Lugia.

"Guy's nuttier than a sack full of Linoone who graduated from Nutty Linoone University during National Linoone Go Crazy Week," agreed a shocked Leo.

Michael blinked. "Is that an actual thing?"

"In some countries, yes," Briney said.

"He is completely insane…back home, when an Absol became as mad as this…there was only one recourse left: to put him or her down," Sasha growled.

"Brother…" Ash whispered. His eyes hardened. "I'm kicking Null out of you, once and for all."

"As will I," Nosferatina agreed.

"And I," Lugia added. "Mewtwo was my friend, and I will not see his form used in such a manner for a moment longer!"

HEH. HEHEHEHEHEH. YOU CAN CERTAINLY TRY, Null said. BUT DO NOT FORGET…A RATICATE IS AT ITS MOST DANGEROUS WHEN IT IS CORNERED, AND I AM FAR, FAR MORE DANGEROUS THAN A RATICATE! Shadow Lugia flapped her wings and started moving away. YOU WISH TO STOP ME? YOU WISH TO SAVE MEWTWO? THEN COME AND GET ME! Shadow Lugia turned and flew away. As they departed, the Nihilator army at last stirred to motion, marching forwards and powering up their weapons, ready to fight to the last mon.

"Okay everyone, this is it! This is the big one!" Victini shouted. "You all know your roles! You all know what you're supposed to do!"

"Kick Nihilator ass?" Briney said.

"That sounds sufficient to me," Dawn said.

Victini grinned. "Heh, that it does. Seriously, though, this is gonna be a big battle, and your powers will be needed where they're best suited. Does everyone know what to do?"

They all nodded. "We know," Sasha said.

"We are ready," Boa added.

"I call dibs on Arackaiser!" Leo said.

"Sure thing, just so long as you remember, that ship of his is mine," Briney said greedily.

"Good to see you have your priorities straight," Tenjin said in amusement.

"Would you really want them any other way?" Dawn asked.

Tenjin considered this for a moment. "I suppose not," he finally admitted.

"This is it…the final battle," Michael said.

"What we've been working up to all this time…" Tiny said.

Lily nodded. "For the people of Earth…and Mars…"

"For all those whom the Nihilators have hurt," Olrox said.

"And those whom they've taken from us," Joachim growled.

"For Mewtwo…" Ash said quietly, Nosferatina nodding solemnly.

Lugia nodded. "And everyone else we care for…it is time for us to put a stop to the Nihilators once and for all!"


Shouting battle cries, the armies of Earth began to march forward, leaping and flying forward to meet their Nihilator counterparts. The battle joined, and a fight which would determine the fate of the Solar System began.

Meanwhile, in Kanjohenn…

With a swish of a cape, Giovanni and Domino entered the control room for Project T. The other Rockets in the command center quickly rose to their feet and saluted. "Welcome, Master Giovanni!" Pierce, a Venipede, greeted his leader.

Giovanni nodded as he sat down in the most prominent seat in the room, overlooking all the other consoles, and nodded at the other Rockets, who resumed their posts, while Domino took her place at her master's side. "Pierce, it's good to see you. Are we ready for launch?"

Pierce nodded. "All systems are fully operational and ready to go. We await your command, sir."

"And I am waiting on something else…" Giovanni murmured. "We cannot launch, not yet, not until we get the signal from Zager."

Right on cue, the main screen switched from a view of the massive hangar Project T had been constructed in over the last few months to the face of Doctor Zager. "Master Giovanni, our anti-portalstone is reacting. Portals have opened up all over the world, and every country which is committed to the war effort has sent their forces through."

Giovanni grinned. "Excellent. Have they sent all of them through?"

"No, not all," Zager confessed. "They're still holding a few back in reserve in case reinforcements are needed, as well as the troops they already were keeping stationed on their borders. However, their defenses are significantly weakened. In my expert opinion, now would be the ideal time to activate the anti-portalstone. If we wait too long, there's a chance we'll lose our window of opportunity."

"Understood. Wait one moment, Doctor," Giovanni said. He turned to Pierce. "Get the others on the line. We need to confirm with them as well."

"Sir," Pierce said with a nod, before glancing at the Rocket monning the communications station, who saluted and, with a few presses of a button, brought live feeds of Viper, Archer, Tyson, and Annie and Oakley and Gordor onto the main screen.

"Viper, Archer, Tyson; your forces are all ready to go?" Giovanni asked.

The three Rockets nodded. "Sir, we only await your order," Archer said.

"Annie, Oakley, have you reached the projected altitude?" Giovanni asked.

The two sisters nodded. "We've pushed the engines as far as they can go. We're practically on the edge of space!" Annie said, awed. "It's so beautiful up here…"

"If we went any further, this ship'd probably come apart. I think we're as high as we're going to get," Oakley said.

"The Rocket Stylers are primed and ready, Master Giovanni. At your command, we can begin," Gordor said.

"Then I see no reason to delay any further," Giovanni said. "Archer, have our agents worldwide carry out their orders. Tyson, send your flock to harry the various towns of Kanjohenn so they won't interfere. Viper, move out for Pokémon Square. Gordor, launch the Rocket Stylers. Zager, activate the anti-portalstone. And Pierce…" He grinned savagely. "Deploy Project T. This is the moment we have been waiting for…the dawning of a new age, a new world order! At long last, Team Rocket shall reign supreme! Long live Team Rocket!"

"LONG LIVE TEAM ROCKET!" everyone shouted.

Around the world, sleeper agents positioned in places of power abruptly knocked out or neutralized important government officials and world leaders. There were no fatalities, or at least a minimum of them; after all, a coup would be easier to maintain if you had plenty of hostages. Black banners bearing the red R of Team Rocket started unrolling down the sides of major government buildings, much to the surprise of the populace, who had no idea what was going on until loudspeakers and public address systems started shouting that they were now under the rule of Team Rocket.

A massive flock of avian Pokémon rose from the northern forests of Kanjohenn and headed southwards, their many wings blotting out the Sun and casting a vast shadow across the land.

The giant portals to Mars all slammed shut, much to the surprise of the military personnel on either side of the interplanetary gateways.

High in the atmosphere, hatches opened on the underside of a massive saucer-shaped airship held up by numerous rotors and anti-gravity engines and expelled three massive top-like objects with big red Rs covering the black domes on their upper surface, the devices flying away at high speeds, trailing lines made of red, blue, and yellow light in their wake.

And the upper third of Mt. Steel split apart, revealing a great shaft going deep into the heart of the mountain…a shaft through which something, something big, was rising towards the surface at incredible speeds…

Meanwhile, on Mt. Freeze…

The first thing Latios noticed when he woke up was that his head hurt. A lot.

The second thing he noticed was that he was hearing voices. Lots of voices. He thought he recognized his sister, and Krysta, and Zorra, but there were others as well, hundreds of them, all screaming and chattering and hollering right in his ear. He cringed and held his claws over his ears—and something felt odd about those, he noted—but it wouldn't stop, they just kept talking and talking and talking and-

The third thing he noticed was the feeling of a feather-light touch on his forehead, a feeling of pure warmth and love and light washing through his frame—which also felt odd—and suddenly the voices were…not gone, but softer, further away.

All except for one. "Brother, are you all right?" Latias asked gently through their telepathic bond.

Latios grimaced. "Ugh…sis…what happened? I feel…weird…did I go on another bender and drink something I shouldn't again?"

A sigh, and a feeling of exasperation, concern, and love. "No. You did do something you shouldn't have, though. What were you thinking, tampering with the Soul Dew like that?! You could have gotten yourself killed!"

"Soul Dew?" Latios's mind raced, memories flashing back. Of how Krysta had promised him she could make him stronger, of how she'd shoved the Soul Dew into his chest, and… "Oh! Oh shit…did it work?"

"…You nearly died and the only thing you're worried about if whether or not it worked?!" Latias asked incredulously.

"Well, obviously it did work, or we wouldn't be talking, right?" Latios said. He paused. "Unless I'm dead and you're talking to my soul using your super-awesome Guardian powers. Which…might explain why I feel so funny, and why I can't see anything."

"You can't see anything because your eyes are closed, you idiot," Latias said in bemusement.

"Oh." Latios opened his eyes. His brain was bombarded by a torrent of colors and feelings and thoughts and other…things he didn't have words for. He closed his eyes. "Ow."

Latias sighed in exasperation. "You idiot. You brought this on yourself! You should have let me know you wanted to use the Soul Dew to become stronger!"

"…I was worried you'd stop me…" Latios confessed.

"I very well might have, considering you almost didn't survive the experience!" Latias snapped. She sighed. "Then again, this is on me, too, for failing to realize just how desperately you wanted to become more powerful to help out…or rather, I did realize it, but I didn't really think about it. I've just had so much on my plate lately…I'm sorry, brother, I've been neglecting you again."

"Hey…well…at least now I can help you out now, right? Since I'm stronger and all?" Latios asked. "Er…I am stronger, right?"

"Yes, you're stronger," Latias said in frustration. "The transformation worked, but it almost didn't. Krysta's a great sorceress, but she's not a Lati. We are the only ones who can truly comprehend the Soul Dew's power. If I hadn't sensed your pain and gotten here when I did…well, things turned out all right—barely—so I suppose that doesn't Beartic thinking about."

"Okay," Latios said, deciding not to think about how easily he could have died. "When I woke up, I heard voices…so many voices…and when I opened my eyes-"

"Your Psychic abilities have increased significantly. You were picking up the thoughts of everyone for over a hundred miles," Latias explained. "Your powers have outgrown the techniques Mom and Dad taught us to keep from going mad from hearing other Pokémon's thoughts. I had to dampen your abilities briefly so you didn't tear your mind apart."

"And my sight?" Latios asked.

"Your eyes are now able to see things you couldn't before. A lot more," Latias explained. "Your mind wasn't ready for it, though, and was a little overwhelmed."

"Oh," Latios said. "Does this mean I'm going to have to be like Aaron now, and fly around with a blindfold?"

"No, I can…well, not fix it, exactly, but help your brain catch up with the rest of you, so you can better process everything that's happening around you without being overwhelmed," Latias said.

"Do it," Latios said.

She did. Latias reached inside of him, and…and twisted something in his mind, and…

Suddenly, he felt a lot better. More like himself. More like himself than he'd ever felt before, actually. "You can open your eyes now," Latias said.

Latios opened his eyes, and stared in wonder at the world around him.

He had been moved into Krysta's den, but he didn't remember it looking like this. He could see…colors not on the electromagnetic spectrum, lines of force and magic and energy, translucent 'echoes' left by Pokémon passing through time and leaving an imprint on the fabric of reality as they went here and there. He could see emotions staining the air and ground, raw love and passion and other things generated so vigorously and freely that it had soaked into the world around it. He could see individual granules and pieces of silicon in the rocks making up the walls. He could see the individual atoms and smaller subatomic particles making up the rocks. He could see the strings and strands of power binding everything in the Omniverse together and connecting them to the Original One. He could feel Arceus' power, His infinite love, coursing through every corner of creation. It was enough to bring tears to his eyes, and he found, to his delight, that he could still see perfectly even with the water clogging up his vision.

He could hear the thoughts of every living creature for miles and miles, even things he hadn't expected to have thoughts, like trees and rocks and even grains of dirt, though the way they thought and saw the world was vastly different from how Pokémon did. He could hear his sister inside of him, on a level he'd never experienced before, even deeper than their usual twin telepathy bond.

Oh, and he could hear Krysta and Zorra, too, though he'd been too busy examining the world around him to pay attention to them until now. They looked the same…well, except that he could now also see inside their minds and bodies and spirits—Huh, so that's what a soul looks like, he thought to himself—observe neurons pulsing through their nervous system, watch blood pumping through their veins, see the air enter and leave their lungs, even view food digesting, which he didn't find as disgusting as he had once thought it would be. He could also see the raw magic and power swirling around their forms, linking them to and altering the world around them. It was magnificent. He'd always thought Zorra and Krysta were beautiful, but now that he could see more than just the cages made of proteins and lesser matter encasing their true selves he realized they were far lovelier than he had ever imagined.

Is he all right? He's been staring at us for like ten minutes now, a thought passed through a disturbed Zorra's mind, and thus into Latios's. It's kind of getting weird.

"How do you feel, Brother?" Latias asked.

"Incredible!" Latios said giddily. He didn't even have to turn his head to see her now. How had he ever thought just using his eyes would ever be enough to properly view the world around him?! "Is this how you see things all the time?!"

Latias laughed, and her laughter caused echoes around her through relatiy, causing light to bend, space to warp, the great strings to vibrate, and something deep within Latios to resonate gladly. "No, what I see is…well, let's just say you're getting a small taste of what it's like to be me, and leave it at that."

"It's one hell of a taste!" Latios said. "What do I look like? I need a mirror!"

"You can make your own. Not that you need to, you can just look at yourself," Latias pointed out.

"I can? I can!" Latios said in delight.

And Latios examined himself. He noted that he didn't look much like Latias herself did, which he was fine with, because he immediately fell in love with his new appearance. His white down glittered like millions of vibrant pearls. The blue parts of his body had transformed into dazzling multifaceted crystal which caught the light in a myriad of wonderful ways. A large pink stone arose where the big white pentagon on his forehead had used to be, many sparkling lights swirling in their depths. Another pink stone grew from his chest, in the center of the red triangle, which was now surrounded by blue and white dazzling scale plating with many curlicues and elegant traceries carved into them. Similar patterns now covered most of his body, and he immediately recognized them—though he had had no knowledge of them prior to this moment—as markings indicating where Psychic and other energies coursed through his body. Elegant white and blue blades grew from his back and sides. His arms had grown longer, with larger claws capable of crushing stone and blades growing from the plates covering his forearms. His fin-like feet and jet-plane wings had transformed into two pairs of 'proper' white and blue dragon wings glittering with stardust that were much larger than his old wings. A long tail hung down behind him, ending in blades. His triangular ears had become small wings as well, and his red eyes seemed to be portals leading to a crimson infinity filled with the accumulated wisdom of the ancients.

And that was just his physical body (which was also a little larger, by the way)! He could see his power as well, extending far beyond his material form into other dimensions beyond the three or four most Pokémon dealt with, intertwining with and interacting with everything in the cavern, especially his sister. He could see his own soul, too, resonating with the Soul Dew in his chest. It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. He wept from the wonder of it all.

Aaaaand now he's crying. Great. This is awkward… Zorra thought.

"Brother, I think you're freaking them out," Latias said.

"Huh? Oh, uh, yeah. Right. Ha. Wow. It's easy to get distracted like this. How can you manage to focus with so much…everything around you?!" Latios asked.

"Practice," Latias said in amusement. "The world seems very big to you right now. Try to make it small. Compartmentalize it. Concentrate on what's right in front of you."

"I'll try," Latios said. He focused on Krysta and Zorra. But not too hard, or he'd find himself lost in their…their everything.

With difficulty, he managed to rein some of his senses in and managed to tune out just about everything except for Krysta saying, "Latios, how are you feeling?"

"I feel…incredible," Latios said, though it took him a couple of tries to remember how to use his tongue. The mouth seemed like such an inefficient organ, now. "Thank you, Krysta. I was hoping for power…but this…this is beyond my wildest dreams!"

"And mine," Krysta confessed. "I did not think the Soul Dew would boost your strength to this level!"

"Did you think it would change his appearance?" Zorra asked.

"Yes, actually, that much I anticipated," Krysta said.

"The Soul Dew is a very powerful artifact, Krysta. You shouldn't have been playing around with it without me here," Latias chided the Ninetales. "I may be too strong to easily use the Soul Dew now, but I could have helped you better integrate it into his body without nearly killing him."

"I apologize, Guardian," Krysta said as she bowed her head, chastened. "I'd thought that my millennia of experience in magic would have better prepared me for this. It seems that I still have much to learn."

Latias nodded solemnly. "It's never a good idea to meddle in the tools of the divine without some divinity of your own for support."

"Millennia…just how old are you, anyway, Krysta?" Zorra asked.

Krysta hesitated. "Ah, well…"

"Almost two thousand years," Latios blurted. Krysta stiffened, and Latias facepalmed.

Zorra started. "Two thousand?! I thought Ninetales could only live for one!"

Krysta laughed nervously. "Ah, well, my studies in the mystical arts have granted me considerable longevity-"

"Actually, she made a deal with some time-" Latios started to say, only for Latias to clamp down hard on his mind.

"Brother, it's impolite to tell other people's secrets," Latias reminded him sternly.

"Ah. Right. Sorry," Latios said Mareepishly.

"Don't apologize to me, apologize to her!" Latias insisted.

"Right. Right." "Uh, sorry Krysta. Didn't mean to pry," Latios said lamely.

"Just…do not do it again," Krysta said, tails bristling, ignoring Zorra's concerned look. "There is much about my past I do not wish to discuss."

Latios nodded. "Got it. Won't happen again. Er, say, to make up for it, how about I break the curse binding you here?"

"You can do that?!" all three females cried in surprise.

Latios blinked. "I can?" There was a pause. "Oh, yeah, I can! Huh. That's new."

"How…how can you…" Krysta stammered.

"I thought that the spell trapping her here was nearly unbreakable, and the only way to fix it was to use that ritual that's supposed to help Latios get more of her powers back," Zorra said in befuddlement.

"That's exactly what I thought," Latias said, looking at her brother in surprise. "I can see the chains imprisoning Krysta just as well as you can, brother, but I can't break them without killing her. Not yet, anyway."

"Maybe you can't, but I can," Latios said, realizing much to his amazement that this was true.

"How?" Krysta asked in disbelief.

"It's the Soul Dew. It has the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of my ancestors. Apparently one of them ran afoul of Legion a very long time ago and managed to learn some of their weaknesses. It got him killed, but his knowledge still made it into the Dew…including a way to break Krysta's spell, and more easily locate any other tricks or traps they've created," Latios explained.

"That's…that's wonderful news!" Zorra said excitedly.

"I…I can hardly believe it…" Krysta said, eyes wide in astonishment. "I…I may finally be free?"

"But how do you know this way but I don't?" Latias asked, puzzled.

"You don't have access to your full power or knowledge," Latios pointed out. "Plus…well, no offense sis, but you—er, your Guardian self—has always had trouble with Unown, haven't you?"

"…We all have…" Latias admitted grudgingly. "Fair enough, I may know a lot, but that doesn't mean I know everything, even at full power. There's a part of me that's jealous, but the rest of me is too excited! Can you do it now?"

"Y-yes! Can you?" Krysta asked hopefully. "I so dearly wish to walk the Earth once more, and no longer be confined in this gilded cage…so that I may join the people I care about, and be reunited with those whom I have been separated from for far too many centuries!"

"I can do it," Latios said. "But first, I'll need an intact piece of Legion."

"Zorra, we collected a few of their little traps that were in fairly good shape, didn't we?" Latias asked Zorra.

The Zoroark nodded. "Some of the tiles with letters on them? Yeah, I'll go get one now." She ran out of the cave.

"We're also going to need to evacuate the mountain. Breaking the spell's going to be…well, rather violent, and it might not be safe for the inhabitants to be around when it happens," Latias said.

"I can take care of that," Latias said, off in a flash. Literally.

"I found one! Will this work?" Zorra asked, running back into the den with a small square tile with the Unown sigil for '?' on it.

"Yes, that'll work perfectly," Latios said, taking the tile and examining it with his higher senses. "There's still some traces of their power in here. If I can tap into it, and mix it with my own…"

"Then you will be able to free me?" Krysta asked.

"That's the idea," Latios said.

The Ninetales shook her head in wonder. "I have waited for this day for so long…I never thought it would be now, or happen so soon…"

Latias reappeared. "I'm back! Sorry I took so long. Some Pokemon were harder to convince to leave than others. Are we ready?"

"Yeah, I think so…except that Pokémon Square's being attacked by monsters, and then Team Rocket, and we should probably do something about it." He blinked. "Wait, what?"

Zorra, Krysta, and Latias all stiffened. "I feel it too…a powerful force is brewing!" Krysta cried.

"My alarms back in town are going crazy!" Zorra agreed.

"This isn't good…" Latias said in concern. "We have to go help!"

"Wait, what about Krysta? And how did I know that was happening?" Latios asked in confusion.

"Another side-effect of your transformation, I suppose." Krysta sighed. "Curses. We were so close…oh well, I have waited hundreds of years. I can wait a few more minutes. Go take care of Pokemon Square. We can continue once you are finished."

Latios nodded reluctantly. "Well…all right, if you're sure."

"I am. Now go before I change my mind," Krysta said.

Latias nodded. "Come on, brother. Let's go test out more of your new powers!"

"Sounds good to me," the blue and white dragon said with a grin.

They blasted out of the cave, Latias still moving much faster than Latios, but he was having far less trouble keeping up than he used to, much to both of their delights. "…Uh, hello? I'm still here!" Zorra, who was still in the cave, called after the Eon dragons. They did not turn back. She sighed. "Huh. So that's what that feels like…"

"Perhaps you could create some illusory conveyance to follow them?" Krysta suggested.

Zorra shrugged. "I guess so. Better get working on that, then." She paused. "…So…what was Latios saying about a deal you made with-"

"Just get going," Krysta said curtly, shoving her sister-wife out of the cave. "We can talk about it later."

Zorra narrowed her eyes. "I'm going to hold you to that, you know." Krysta fidgeted but said nothing. The Zoroark glared at her once more, then stalked off.

Krysta sighed. "I had hoped they would never learn my darkest secret…it looks like I may have no choice but to tell them the truth about the circumstances behind the curse I put on Gary after all…" Her head sank. "And they shall hate me forever for it, I am certain…"

Saddened, she turned and padded back into the den, to lie down, and sulk, and worry about what she would say when her lovers and friends returned…and what she would do once she was finally free…

Meanwhile, elsewhere…

"Either I'm getting stronger, or these tests are getting closer together," Rayquaza huffed as he paused on the last step before his next trial, right above the claws of the great Rayquaza statue.

"It's the latter."

Rayquaza sighed. "Of course it is. So, what's the deal with this next task?"

"The Test of the Claw is a trial of mercy," the Jade Orb said.

"Mercy? What do claws have to do with mercy? I was expecting it to be a test of strength," said the surprised Rayquaza.

"The claws of a king, and a dragon, are very powerful weapons. You can choose to use them to crush and tear and rend anything in your way…or use them to spare and forgive and redeem, making peace rather than war," the Orb said.

"Ah. Yes, that makes sense," Rayquaza admitted. "And it's still a test of strength, in a way, because sometimes it takes true strength not to use strength, and only the truly strong can afford to be kind, or something like that."


"So. Mercy. I'm guessing it's not so simple as me forgiving someone who's wronged me, then, or pardoning a criminal, or sparing a foe's life," Rayquaza said.

"No. A king's decisions have great consequences. Even an action as seemingly benevolent and pure as sparing someone's life can have dire ramifications for your entire realm."

"So this is going to be some sort of tricky case, then?" Rayquaza asked.

"Aren't they all?"

"Heh. True enough," Rayquaza admitted. "Okay, let's do this, then."

He took a step forward…




These were the words on the forefront of everyone's minds in these dark days, among the worst in recent memory. Vital military secrets had been leaked to the enemy by a high-ranking member of the Imperial government, and hundreds of Draconian soldiers had lost their lives as a result, entire settlements getting wiped off the face of the map. And the name of this traitor…

Was none other than Nuken Shinobu, His Excellency Rayquaza's second-in-command and most trusted ally. The Empire had been rocked to its foundations by this revelation. While Nuken was feared by all and disliked by most, his honor and absolute loyalty to his liege were without question. The very idea of him willingly betraying his master was inconceivable, an impossibility. And yet Nuken had been caught red-clawed about to send more of the Empire's secrets to their greatest foes, and there was nothing left to do but bring him to justice.

The trial had been long and hard. Despite the best efforts of the defense, the prosecution was able to produce mountains of evidence implicating Nuken's treachery. There was no forgery involved, no coerced witnesses, no forced confessions. That sort of thing did not fly in His Excellency's court. Everything had been checked and double-checked meticulously for authenticity…and all of it checked out. Nuken had, without a doubt, committed high treason.

The fact that he'd willingly confessed to it didn't help matters.

This put His Excellency Rayquaza, ruler of the Draconian Empire, in the very uncomfortable position of being forced to pass judgment on his most loyal retainer, his closest ally…his best friend. Normally Rayquaza would not be asked to preside over a case like this due to personal bias…but he was the only authority in the Empire that outranked Nuken, and therefore the only court capable of trying him.

The courtroom had gone silent after the jury foremon had delivered his verdict, pronouncing Nuken Shinobu guilty of all charges. Half the eyes in the room were focused on Rayquaza, wearing his robes and crown of office, waiting for him to pronounce his judgment. The other half were focused rather anxiously on Nuken, who was currently wrapped from top to bottom in chains of the strongest and heaviest metal known to Pokémonkind, floating in the middle of a containment spell of the kind used to hold archdemons or toxic materials deadly enough to destroy the world, with several dozen of the most powerful guards in His Excellency's service and a hundred ninjas all keeping their weapons trained on him, ready to strike if he so much as twitched the wrong way. Not a single Pokémon in the room doubted that he could still break free and murder them all if he so chose, despite the security measures. He wasn't regarded as one of the most dangerous mons in the world for no reason, after all.

But he had made no attempt to escape, or to defend himself. He'd allowed himself to be arrested, testified repeatedly under oath and truth spell that he had done it. The only thing that he had refused to admit, even when under extreme duress or pressured by the strongest Psychic they could find, was why he'd done it, why he'd turned his back on his master after centuries of spotless service.

It was for this reason that Rayquaza was absolutely certain Nuken was innocent. Okay, yes, he had probably done it—not even he could argue with the hard evidence, though he dearly wished he could—but if Nuken had really been trying to betray the Empire, he wouldn't have allowed himself to get caught. He certainly wouldn't have allowed this trial to come to pass!

There had to be more going on here. There had to be. Nuken would never betray him, not without good reason. What that reason was, though, eluded him. Nuken refused to explain to anyone why he had done what he did, even Rayquaza. Rayquaza had stalled for as long as he could, given the investigators as much time as he could spare to find the truth, and they had found…nothing. No explanation for this grievous act of treachery.

And now time had run out, and the verdict had been passed, and Rayquaza couldn't stall any longer. Everyone was looking to him to pass down judgment, and the longer he hesitated, the more anxious everyone was going to be. But what, precisely, was that judgment to be?

The law was clear. The penalty for treason of this magnitude was death. Were it anyone else, Rayquaza would declare the death sentence without hesitation…but…

This was Nuken. The mon who had loyally served Rayquaza for centuries. The mon who'd thwarted countless assassination attempts, fought in countless wars, and performed countless…unsavory, but nonetheless necessary actions that allowed Rayquaza to keep his claws clean and for the Empire to continue running smoothly. He was not only a trusted, competent functionary, so vital to the operations of the Empire Rayquaza couldn't fathom a world in which he did not exist…he was also Rayquaza's best 'mortal' friend, or at least Rayquaza considered him as such. Surely…surely an exception could be made, in recognition of his many years of service…right? (Not to mention that if Nuken died, it would kill Koga too, who was, as far as Rayquaza knew, blameless in all this.)

No. No, it couldn't. Rayquaza knew that as well as anyone else. If Rayquaza changed the sentence, that would serve a bad precedent, and might encourage further treachery. It might also cause some doubt in the minds of his subjects, and other world leaders, that he was fit to rule a government as powerful and vast as the Draconian Empire.

Not to mention, from a practical standpoint, altering the sentence would be a bad idea. Throw Nuken in prison for the rest of his nearly immortal life? Nuken had designed most of the security measures used to contain the Empire's most heinous criminals; it was a sure bet that he would be able to escape if he ever chose to. (Then again, he could have conceivably escaped a long time ago, but had not chosen to. It didn't matter that he probably wouldn't escape, though, the idea that he might would still keep many people up at night.) Banish him? Even worse. Nuken knew too much. His mind contained vital intelligence pertaining to the Empire's military and covert operations and inner workings. The list of countries and other individuals who would snatch Nuken up the instant he left the Empire's borders was staggering, and it was a safe bet that the Empire's destruction would be imminent afterwards.

And of course, simply pardoning him was unthinkable. And yet Rayquaza thought about it. Constantly.

Yes, Nuken had done it. Rayquaza had been forced to come to terms with this a while ago. But he was sure he had had a good reason for it…and he dearly, desperately did not want to condemn his dearest companion to death, even though letting him live would probably be one of the worst decisions he could ever make, politically speaking. Pokémon had wondered for years why he kept someone as dangerous as Nuken by his side, had secretly wished for a long time that he would slip up and be gotten rid of, and for Nuken to simply be forgiven after a crime of this magnitude might be the last straw. Even knowing this, however, Rayquaza still hesitated…

But, in the end, there was only one way this could end. Rayquaza supposed he'd always known how this would end. There was no way out but this…

Or at least, that's what everyone was supposed to think.

"Nuken Shinobu," Rayquaza said gravely. "For the crime of high treason against the Draconian Empire, I sentence you to death by fire, one of the only ways guaranteed to kill you once and for all."

"NO!" Missy screamed in the audience, bursting into tears.

"I understand, my liege," Nuken said calmly.

Rayquaza banged his gavel against his podium. "Your sentence shall be carried out in one week's time. Court is dismissed. If you will excuse me, I would like some time to myself. I have just condemned one of my closest friends to a horrible death." He rose and flew out of the chamber as the audience filed out, murmuring to each other, and Nuken was escorted from the room under heavy guard, denying the weeping Missy the chance to be with him. Rayquaza caught Koga's eye on his way out, and the Ninjask nodded subtly before disappearing. There was much to do before Nuken's sentence was carried out…

One week later…

The execution had gone off without a hitch. Standing before a crowd of hundreds, with media crews from all around the world broadcasting live, Nuken had been immolated by the flames of a dozen Charizards, and the ashes further burned, just to make sure he wasn't coming back. The amount of cheers from the crowd as Nuken perished made Rayquaza want to scream. Nuken had done so much for them, for their country, kept them warm and safe and unaware of some of the truly nasty things out in the world which desperately sought to destroy them, and all they could do was cheer and celebrate the death of a monstrous traitor. There were very few times where Rayquaza felt as if he hated his subjects, and this was one of them.

Koga—who had accepted his impending demise with admirable courage and grace-had a heart attack and dropped dead moments later, confirming that his brother was truly deceased. The Shedinja's only request before dying was that he be allowed to kiss his wife one last time, which Rayquaza had generously granted, not that Missy was in any mood to be grateful. She'd screamed as if she were the one dying herself when Nuken was set ablaze, and had shrieked at Rayquaza that she would never forgive him for this, that one way or another she would make him pay. The Dragon God King had suffered many grievous injuries in his millions of years of life, but somehow the sight of that heartbroken Misdreavus widow crying her eyes out hurt him more than anything else in recent memory. He'd offered some trite apology, said something about reparations and making sure she'd be well-taken care of, and then departed, leaving his wife Latias and Missy's stepdaughter Lily to comfort the mourning Ghost. As much as it pained him, the affairs of state wouldn't go away just because he'd had to execute his best friend in all the world, and he had other business to tend to on his schedule.

Business that took him to a place that was on no map or government register, even the registers the public wasn't allowed to see. Business that had him escorted by Pokémon who were not on any Imperial payroll-or at least, not any that were written down-to a small windowless room with a table and chairs and nothing else. Business that left him waiting in that room for several minutes until the same Pokémon who were most definitely not on his payroll returned with another Pokémon wearing a black bag over his head. The Pokémon gently put the mon with the bag into his seat on the opposite side of the table from Rayquaza, whipped the bag off, and left the room, leaving Rayquaza alone…

With Nuken Shinobu. "You're looking quite well for a mon who's dead," Rayquaza joked.

"I am a Ghost-type, my liege. I am rather used to being dead," Nuken said stoically.

Rayquaza nodded. "That you are."

"Did the crowd buy it?" Nuken asked.

Rayquaza smirked. "The Substitute Lily helped craft worked perfectly, and the special poison Koga took has slowed his body's systems down so thoroughly it is as if he really had died. He will be entombed, of course, in your clan's crypt, but in his current state he should have a few months until we need to give him the antidote or he dies for real."

"Then everyone believes that I am really dead," Nuken said.

Rayquaza nodded in agreement. "Not even Latias knows. Well…she might know. It's hard to tell with her. But if she does know, I doubt she'll talk."

"And Missy?" Nuken asked.

Rayquaza hesitated. "…I think she wishes she had died, as well. I wish we could have told her the truth."

"As my wife, there are many eyes on her. Her reaction had to be genuine, to convince those who are watching that I am truly deceased," Nuken said.

"I am aware of that. It is still a hard thing to do," Rayquaza said.

"Hard things must be done to safeguard the Empire," Nuken said.

Rayquaza nodded. "Agreed. And speaking of which…I think it is high time you finally told me why you committed treason. I went to a great deal of effort to convince the entire world that you're dead, so there had better be a damn fine good reason for your actions. If it turns out that you did betray me for money or power, I shall be very cross."

"There is," Nuken said. "Bellum has laid a curse upon my and Missy's daughter. She threatened to kill her in a horrifying way and deliver her soul to Giratina if I did not leak certain secrets and information. I could not tell you, of course, or else…"

"Or else she'd kill your daughter. Understood," Rayquaza snarled, claws digging into the table. "Bellum…I suspected she might have a hand in this. She always has had a way of getting under your shell…"

"Don't remind me," Nuken said glumly.

"I mean no offense, Nuken, but I…am somewhat surprised you went along with it. You have said on more than one occasion that your duty means more to you than anything…even your family," Rayquaza said.

"I had thought the same thing," Nuken admitted. "But…when Bellum informed me of what she had done…I suddenly realized that I could not, would not condemn my child to death, and worse. I…I am sorry, my liege. I have failed you."

"I am a father as well, Nuken. I understand perfectly," Rayquaza assured Nuken. "There is nothing I would not do for my own daughter."

"I had thought myself above such feelings…" Nuken confessed. "But when she first hatched…and smiled and saw me for the first time…I knew that I was hers, now and forever." He looked up, desperation—a look Rayquaza had never seen on his friend's face—in his eyes. "My liege…you must save her. I am not certain Bellum will be fooled for long by that little play you put on."

"I'll have Lily look into it immediately," Rayquaza assured Nuken. "She knows Bellum's magic better than anyone else. If anyone can break the curse, it's her."

Nuken sighed in relief. "Thank you, my liege. I…I am eternally in your debt."

"Aren't you already?" Rayquaza asked in amusement.

"I suppose so, yes, but the sentiment still stands," Nuken said.

"Heh. Think nothing of it, my friend," Rayquaza said. "You've pulled my tail out of the fire so many times, it's about time I help you out for a change."

"There is more," Nuken said urgently. "I told Bellum about much more than simple military maneuvers and covert operations. I also informed her of the locations of several artifacts of power and ancient foes you sealed away long ago. Since the world has not yet come to an end, I can only assume she hasn't found them yet, but it is only a matter of time."

Rayquaza's pulse quickened. "Tell me everything you told her. We can set a trap…and maybe, just maybe, put a stop to her once and for all."

Nuken told Rayquaza everything. The Dragon God King listened carefully, memorizing all the relevant details, and then the two of them worked out several viable plans of action both to minimize the damage that had already been done and prevent any more from happening. Once they'd covered everything, Rayquaza rose from his seat. "For your own protection, you're going to have to stay here for a while. Once this is over, we can see about resurrecting you and your brother. Most people can't tell the differences between Ninjasks and Shedinjas on sight. People might think it odd that I'm appointing a new Shedinja to be my right-hand mon and Ninjask to head my ninja corps that doesn't actually exist, but if we play it off as me getting sentimental in my old age and trying to get a replacement Goldeen, so to speak, nobody should think much of it."

"And I suppose this 'new Shedinja' would marry a certain Misdreavus widow in your service, allowing her to move on from the death of her horrible, traitorous husband?" Nuken asked.

Rayquaza grinned. "Precisely."

"Very clever, my liege," Nuken said.

"Well, I learned from the best. After all, how many criminals with particular assets have you recruited into government service by faking their deaths and giving them new identities?" Rayquaza pointed out in amusement.

Nuken nodded. "Quite true, my liege."

"I should be going, now," Rayquaza said. "If I'm going to get on top of all this. The Pokémon here will cater to your every need until we can get you out of here."

"That is most appreciated," Nuken said. He paused, and then said, "My liege?"

"Yes?" Rayquaza asked.

"How…how did you know there was more to this than just me betraying you?" Nuken asked. "What made you decide to find a way to save my life rather than just condemning me to death?"

"A number of reasons," Rayquaza said. "From a practical standpoint, you're pretty much irreplaceable. This Empire would have collapsed without you long ago, and it'll probably collapse in the future without you there to help guide it. From a rational standpoint, you've served me loyally for centuries, and it didn't make sense for you to turn on me just like that, especially since you were being oddly quiet about why you betrayed me. And from an emotional standpoint…I didn't want to lose my best friend."

"…You are far too sentimental, my liege," Nuken said quietly.

Rayquaza smirked. "Well, I've reigned for this long, so I must be doing something right, aren't I?"

"Heh. I suppose you are, at that," Nuken said. "Thank you, my liege."

"For saving your life?" Rayquaza asked.

"No. For calling me…your best friend," Nuken said.

They smiled at each other, monarch and retainer...and friends.

"Now that was impressive," the Jade Orb said as Rayquaza awoke.

"You think so?" Rayquaza asked.

"Most definitely. A king with less wisdom and insight would have simply executed Nuken and let that be the end of it. A king with too much compassion and too little sense would have just spared Nuken's life and damned the consequences. But you found another way. Sometimes there is no third option in a situation where you have nothing but bad choices…but the ability to come up with one anyway, even when it doesn't seem like one could be found, is the mark of a great leader."

"I was only following Nuken's example," Rayquaza confessed. "There are many criminals we have sentenced to death who were secretly given new identities and high-ranking positions in the government so that we could make use of their talents."

"A wise decision. Sometimes the best thing you can do with your enemies it keep them close and turn them into your friends," the Orb said. "But that is not the only reason you spared Nuken, of course."

"No," Rayquaza said. "I trust Nuken completely. There…aren't many people a mon in my position can really say that about. I wanted to believe that there was more to his betrayal than met the eye."

"And what if there hadn't? What would you have done?" the Orb asked.

"…Then…I would have still kept him close. His talents and usefulness are irreplaceable," Rayquaza said. "But…I would never have trusted him as deeply as I once did."

"Understandable. And what lesson have you taken away from this on mercy?"

"A king can be merciful if he chooses…but he must be cautious about that mercy, lest he be seen as weak," Rayquaza said. "However…if there is a way to be merciful, yet conceal it as a punishment…then he can mete out justice and still be perceived as being strong." He paused. "Say…didn't I do something like that with those dragons that harmed Neria's forest, too?"

"Yes, but the focus of that trial wasn't about mercy, it was about pride. Your punishing the dragons, and the way they were punished, was less important than how you handled the diplomatic situation with Neria," the Orb said.

"Fair enough." Rayquaza stood up. "So. Only two more trials left?"

"That there are. And you had better hurry. Remember, we are drifting further and further away from your dimension all the time," the Orb warned. "If you don't get your full power back soon…"

"Then it'll be very difficult to get home. Right," Rayquaza said. He grimaced. "You know, that might not have been as much of a problem if it weren't for all these blasted stairs."

"I'm afraid the only Pokémon you can blame for that is yourself. You made this place, after all."

Rayquaza sighed. "True enough. Onwards and upwards, then."

"Onwards and upwards," the Orb agreed.

Rayquaza resumed his climb. Only two more trials to go.

Meanwhile, in Howling Forest…

After several minutes of following the three monkeys, the diplomatic delegation finally found themselves at the edge of a rather large encampment…though 'encampment' would be a charitable term. It was mainly a bunch of flimsy shelters made from sticks and knocked-over trees with skins and furs stretched between them squashed together between the forest trees, with a few makeshift structures up in the branches themselves, which made sense since the majority of the Pokémon inhabiting this site were of the monkey variety, although there were several Fire-types and a handful that were neither present as well. As was typical of barbarians, most of them were rather mangy with matted fur and scars, wearing ramshackle armor and carrying weapons of wood or bone or metal. They were lounging about in the treetops, in the shelters, or around firepits, but when they saw the delegation, most of them rose to their feet, appendages instinctively going to their weapons. Cilan shook his head, and the barbarians relaxed…very slightly. They continued staring at the visitors with wary looks on their eyes as they passed.

"…Is it just me, or do these guys seem…afraid of us?" Gonzap commented as the group followed the three sons of Pokong into the encampment.

"They are. I can sense it," Rui said.

"I think everyone can sense it, Rui," Wes said dryly.

"Most of the Pokémon here were present at the battle of Mt. Blaze. They saw what you people are capable of. They're aware that Pokémon like them are being rounded up and killed or relocated all over the continent, and know there's a good chance the same thing might happen to them," Chili said. "Of course they're scared."

"You should be," Marina said unsympathetically. "It's only just desserts. You'd do worse to us if given the chance, after all."

"Yeah, we probably would," Cress admitted. Cilan frowned at him.

"We're here to try and find a peaceful resolution," Goku reminded everyone. "There's no reason we can't both find a way to coexist."

"Aside from the fact that our way of life and theirs is kind of mutually incompatible?" Ignik said snidely.

Goku rolled his eyes. "Yes, aside from that."

"So, Ignik. Long time no see," Chili said.

"I'm surprised you're still alive, actually," Cress said.

"There are times I wish I wasn't," Ignik grumbled. "Goku was able to convince them not to kill me or send me to a penal colony, but in return I'm going to have to spend the next several years doing community service in Pokémon Square. And getting beaten up by little kids. It's terrible!"

"When you've had a taste of what life as an actual slave is like, then we can talk about terrible," Ete said harshly, completely unsympathetic.

"'Community service?'" Cilan asked.

"Basically it means he has to do lots of menial jobs around town. Picking up trash, cleaning houses, maintenance work, helping train children…" Goku said.

"By getting beaten up by them!" Ignik shouted.

"Well, that's pretty much all you're good for anyway, isn't it?" Chili sneered. His brothers laughed, and Ignik fumed. Literally. Fire-type and all.

"If we were to come to an…understanding, would we have to do this 'community service?'" Cilan asked suspiciously.

"Ambassador?" Goku asked, glancing at Stoutroot.

"It's unlikely," the Venusaur said.

"Hmmph. Good," Cilan said.

"Lucky bastards," Ignik snarled.

"You brought a rather…sizable group, Goku," Cress said suspiciously. "I seem to recall the emissary being sent to tell you not to bring too many Pokémon. It's putting our brethren on edge."

"We're just here for the sake of protection," Morty said.

Cress raised an eyebrow. "This much?"

"It's a dangerous world," Morty said with a shrug. "Anything could happen just by stepping outside and taking a walk in the woods."

"That and they don't trust you," Ignik said flatly. Ete smacked him. "Ow!"

"Well, we don't trust you either, so I suppose it's fair," Cilan said with a shrug.

"If we don't trust each them and the opposite is true, how exactly are we supposed to get a peace treaty signed?" Bella asked doubtfully.

"I'm sure we'll find a way," Ursula said, though she didn't look too confident about it.

"Once this is over, there shall be peace," Ebony said distantly.

"Oh, that's okay then," Samantha said.

"Wait…peace as in we sign a treaty and are all friends, or peace as in one or both sides are dead and so there's nobody left to fight?" Celsius asked suspiciously.

Ebony thought for a moment. "Peace," he said finally.

The other Rescue Teams sighed. "Typical prophet. He's even worse than Sabrina," Zeke complained.

"Yeah, at least Sabrina's good to look at," Jimmy joked. The others nodded in agreement.

"Grobnar son of Grobnar, do you recognize any of the barbarians here?" Valerie asked.

Grobnar son of Grobnar nodded and started pointing at Pokémon as they passed by. "Yes! That is Olaf the Obese, who beats up anyone who laughs at his weight. That is Gunthar the Guttural, who can't talk right because of a throat injury so just growls and grunts. That is Carter the Cutter, who loves chopping people into pieces with his sword. That is Bozo the Big-Boned, who also beats up anyone who makes fun of his size. That is Ravel the Rapacious, who once raped an entire town to death in one night. That is Oswald the Old, who is extremely dangerous because he is old, which means he must be very good to have lived this long. Oh, and there is Grobnar father of Grobnar son of Grobnar! Hello, father!"

"You're dead to me!" the indicated Slaking shouted. "Possibly literally, soon enough…" he said maliciously.

"They seem like a…interesting bunch…" Valerie said uneasily.

Grobnar son of Grobnar nodded. "Yes! Many of them were Grobnar son of Grobnar's best friends. They beat up and violated Grobnar son of Grobnar all the time and laughed about it!"

"That's horrible!" said the shocked Valerie.

Grobnar son of Grobnar blinked. "It is?"

"Yes! That's not the sort of thing friends do to each other!" said the disgusted Valerie, making a mental note of the names and faces Grobnar son of Grobnar had showed her, so that she could hunt down and kill them all later.

"Oh." Grobnar son of Grobnar considered this. "…Then Grobnar son of Grobnar is very sad."

"Don't worry, Grobnar son of Grobnar, I love you, and so does the rest of the family," Valerie said, hugging the Vigoroth.

He hugged her back happily. "Grobnar son of Grobnar loves you too, Valerie mother of Grobnar son of Grobnar." He thought for a moment. "Maybe Grobnar son of Grobnar should change his name to Grobnar son of Valerie. Grobnar son of Grobnar would like that very much."

Valerie's eyes widened in astonishment. Tearing up, she smiled and said, "Valerie…mother of Grobnar son of Grobnar would…would like that a lot as well."

"Think we're gonna make it out of here okay, Stoutroot?" Don George muttered to the ambassador.

"Well, they outnumber us, but we have the advantage of stronger, well-fed, better-trained fighters…and magic, something I'm fairly certain they lack," Stoutroot replied.

The Emboar shook his head. "Not what I meant. You really think we can get a peace treaty signed?"

Stoutroot smiled confidently. "While I will admit these barbarians seem an unpleasant sort, I've dealt with worse diplomatic snafus. I was once able to negotiate a peace treaty between two high-magic dimensions and ended a war that's lasted for five thousand years. I'm sure I can help work something out with these Pokémon."

"I hope you're right," Don George said. "If things go sour, I'm confident we can fight our way out…but I don't want my daughter getting hurt."

"Nor mine," Stoutroot said with a sigh. "If it weren't for that child's prophecy, I wouldn't have even brought her on this journey…"

"It didn't occur to you to just ignore this vision and leave her behind?" Morty, who'd overheard, asked.

Stoutroot gave him an offended look. "We come from a land steeped in magic. We know better than to doubt the veracity of prophecy."

"Especially since most of the time, when you try to avoid a prophecy, it comes true anyway," Don George said. "If we forbade our kids from coming, they'd have probably snuck along anyway, or gotten dispatched on some mission that conveniently took them to the same area we're heading to, or they'd accidentally fall into one of our supply crates and couldn't get out until we opened them up and found them in there. That sort of thing."

"Oh," Morty said. "But what possible purpose could they have here?"

Don George shrugged. "Dunno. Guess we'll have to wait and see for ourselves."

"Mirami, I would like to ask you something," Yamiri quietly said to his newfound daughter.

"Yes, Fazzer?" the other Sableye asked.

Yamiri thrilled at that. 'Father.' He liked the sound of that. "As your father, I feel a parental obligation to promise that I will protect you from these barbarians should any of them even look at you funny. However, I am also fully aware that you are a grown womon and an accomplished sorceress of such power that you could probably kill everyone in this place with but a single spell."

"It would take two or zree, actually, but go on," Mirami said with an easy smile.

"As such, given that you are probably more powerful than I, I do not wish to say anything that would patronize you or make you feel like I am treating you as if you were younger than you actually are," Yamiri continued.

Mirami nodded. "Zat is very considerate of you, Fazzer, and I am touched by your concern. While you are correct, I could easily defend myself from zese brutes, your willingness to protect me is touching and appreciated. You may feel free to swear vows to defend me if zat would make you 'appy."

"It would, as a matter of fact," Yamiri said.

"Zen swear away," Mirami said.

"I do solemnly swear that should any barbarian lay a hand on you, or even look at you in a way I do not like, I shall do my best to kill him," Yamiri promised.

Mirami nodded. "Zank you, Fazzer. Zat means a lot to me."

"However, I do not wish to kill them if I do not have to," Yamiri admitted. "We are here on a mission of peace, after all. Once upon a time I was not so different from these wayward souls, and if I could become a mon of the cloth, I would like to believe that anyone can be guided to the light. Everyone is deserving of a little kindness and a chance for redemption." He paused, then added, "By which I mean both actual redemption and a blow from my mace. I named it Redemption."

"Why would you name it zat?" Mirami asked, looking amused.

"Well, it used to be a weapon I used for killing. Now I use it to protect my flock. As I have been redeemed, so has my weapon. I've even blessed it, and imbued it with holy power." He smirked. "That, and I thought calling it that would be funny."

"It was. I approve," Mirami said. "I should like to see it in action sometime…er, but not right now, of course."

"No," Yamiri agreed. "Just as I would like to see your magic sometime. If you are anything like your mother-"

"And I am," Mirami said cheekily.

"Then I'm sure you are magnificent," Yamiri finished.

Mirami nodded. "We shall make time for me to show you later, zen. We 'ave a lot to catch up on, after all."

"Yes," Yamiri said fondly. "We certainly do."

"How are you holding up, buddy?" Pichu asked Matthias in concern, noticing how his friend, brother, and teammate seemed to have an iron grip on the hilt of his sword, ready to draw it at a moment's notice.

"…It's strange," Matthias said after a moment, his eyes not on his friends, but on the barbarians they were passing by.

"What is?" Max asked.

"I'm not afraid of them," Matthias said.

"Really?" Pichu asked in surprise.

"I'm a little scared," Sapphire confessed. "I don't like the way they're looking at me…"

"Don't worry, sis, if any of them come near us, I'll kill 'em with Chazz!" Junior promised.

"My name is not Chazz!" the Honedge shouted through his scabbard, but was so muffled as not to be heard.

The Rattata took a moment to answer. He was looking a massive, muscular, heavily scarred Darmanitan in the eye. After several moments, the Darmanitan flinched and looked away. Nodding in satisfaction, Matthias turned to his friends. "I thought I'd be afraid. I mean, my family and I have been running from guys like these all my life," Matthias admitted. "But…they just don't scare me anymore. I've…changed a lot from the mon I once was. Now I'm strong enough to fight back. Strong enough to protect the people I care about. When I look at them, I don't see something to run from. I see something to stand against. I find myself analyzing their bodies for weak spots, looking for places where my sword and fangs could land a critical blow, examining their weapons and calculating what sorts of attacks they might be capable of using and what the best defense against them might be. All the training I've undertaken since becoming a part of your family…all the exercises and fights and actual fieldwork…have turned me from a coward into a warrior. I now know there are far worse things in the world than this lot. I mean, I helped take down a crazed Tyranitar. What are some barbarians compared to that?"

Pichu clapped a paw on Matthias's shoulder. "Spoken like a true Thunderblade…brother."

"You're so brave, Matthias!" Zachary gushed, getting a liiiiiittle too close to him.

Collette glared at Zachary, and then smiled at Matthias. "I'm proud of you as well, Matthias. You've really grown since you first joined our family."

"Yeah, you're awesome, Matthias!" Sapphire said.

"And it's good to see you've gained control over your temper and aren't frothing at the mouth to kill all barbarians for what they did to your family," Junior said. Everyone gave him exasperated looks. "What?"

"Actually, there is a rather strong voice telling me to draw my sword and kill them all," Matthias said. "But that's not what we're here to do, and it's against the way of the samurai. Unless they attack first, of course. Then all deals are off."

"Well duh, naturally," Pichu said, rolling his eyes. "That goes without saying."

"Say, Mizula, have you killed anyone before?" Bianca asked.

The Phione nodded. "Oh yes, quite a lot."

The Pignite blinked in surprise. The kid didn't look like a killer. Then again, not all of them did. "Really?"

Mizula nodded. "Oh yes. I know many ways to kill a Pokémon. The most effective way for me is to dissolve into water, pour myself down an opponent's throat, and drown them to death."

"…That…that sounds extremely unpleasant," said a repulsed Torch.

"Yes, it is not a comfortable sensation sliding down someone's throat and into their lungs," Mizula agreed.

"That's not what I…never mind," Torch said.

Melanie shuddered. "I…I really hope it won't come to that. I'm the daughter of a diplomat. I know how to fight, but…fighting is abhorrent to me."

"Well, it's a good thing you've got friends like us around!" Bianca bragged, slapping Melanie on her back and causing her to flinch. "So we can kill the bastards for you and you don't have to get your pretty little claws dirty."

Melanie blanched. "That…doesn't really make me feel any better."

"Does anyone think it odd that most of us are children, some of whom are only a few months out of the egg, yet we have no problem casually talking about killing another sentient being?" Hubie asked conversationally, snapping his watch shut.

"…Uh, no, not really," George admitted after some thought.

"I did at first, when I first came to this world," Gilbert confessed. "But I kinda got used to it after a while."

"It's just the kind of world we live in, I suppose," Zachary said with a shrug.

"And that doesn't bother you at all? That this is the kind of world we live in, where it's not unheard of for children to become warriors, killers, at a young age?" Hubie pressed.

"I guess we're used to it since it's all we know," Kira said.

"Just like until now, running in fear from everything was all I knew," Matthias said. "Now I have the ability to strike back at the things that once terrified me. I kind of like it."

"While that's well and good, do be careful not to abuse that sort of power," Hubie warned Matthias.

"I won't," Matthias said. "I've suffered too long from those who want to use their power to oppress people. I don't want to be like that."

"And yet, are we not also oppressing the barbarians, by killing them or forcibly relocating them?" Hubie asked.

"They started it," Pichu said stubbornly. "We're just defending what's ours. And yes, I know you're about to say that they're technically doing the same thing now, but if we left them alone, they'd just keep attacking us, and more people on both sides will die. If they'd left us and all the other innocent Pokémon of Kanjohenn alone, we'd have been perfectly happy to let them go about their business. I mean, it's not like most of the towns they destroyed were built on top of some sacred burial ground or were infringing on or expanding into their territory, they just raided and destroyed them because our very existence offends them."

"Fair enough," Hubie said with a shrug.

"Why are you talking about this, anyway?" George asked.

"Just making conversation. Wouldn't it be interesting, though, if we lived in a world where violence didn't seem to be the go-to solution for everything?" Hubie asked.

"We're Pokémon. Fighting's kind of…hard-wired into us," Bianca pointed out. "I mean, we've even got a Type dedicated to Fighting."

"I suppose that's true," Hubie conceded.

"Not everything has to be solved violently," Melanie said. "After all, that's what we're here for, right? To try and find a peaceful arrangement to the current problems?"

"Assuming it works…" Zachary said skeptically.

"While I think a peaceful resolution would be nice," Collette confessed. "We all know there's a good chance it won't work that way. But even if it does, there are some conflicts that just can't be dealt with by simply talking things over rationally."

Junior nodded. "Yeah, like the Nihilators. They aren't interested in talking. They want to destroy us, plain and simple. Which is why Daddy and everyone else went to Mars to destroy them instead."

"I suppose that's true. Not every problem can be resolved peacefully," Hubie admitted. "Wouldn't it be nice if it could be, though?"

"Yes, it would," Matthias agreed. "But that's not the kind of world we live in. Maybe this peace talk, if it goes okay, will be a step towards making that world…but it might not. And even if it is, I doubt any of us will live long enough to see such a world come into being."

"I guess so," Hubie said, a queer look in his eyes. "If only we had the time." He glanced at his watch again.

"Well gee, that wasn't ominous in the slightest," Gilbert said sarcastically.

"It wasn't? I thought it sounded ominous to me," Mizula said.

Gilbert facepalmed. "That wasn't…oh, never mind."

"What's really going on, Hubie? What are you up to?" George questioned his partner.

The Piplup hesitated. "…All will be explained soon enough, I promise. All that I ask is that you trust me, and, when the time comes, that you stand by me."

"Are you going to do something crazy like try to assassinate Pokong or something?" Pichu asked suspiciously.

"What? No! Of course not!" Hubie said, surprised.

"Oh, okay then. In that case, sure, I guess we'll help out," Pichu said.

"We will?" Max asked.

"Yes, we will," Matthias told him wearily, knowing better than to argue.

"I guess we will, too," Gilbert said. "But we want an explanation later. You've been acting really weird these last few days."

"…Some might say I'm acting more like myself, actually," Hubie said enigmatically. "But I promise everything will make sense in the end." I just hope you all can forgive me for what you're going to find out…

The party came to a stop in front of a ramshackle shelter larger than the others with several skulls from various species of Pokémon adorning its struts and supports, crude paintings depicting feats of strength and conquest decorating the skins and furs, and a pair of large burning torches on either side of a makeshift throne upon which was sitting a huge Primeape. He was missing fur in places thanks to all the scar tissue covering his body from countless battles, and the fur which remained was streaked with gray and…other things. Half of his right ear was gone, and there were a few earrings in the left one. He was missing his left eye, the right now nothing more than a rather grisly mass of scar tissue. Tribal tattoos covered his arms and legs. His left knuckles had spikes on them, while instead of a right hand he had a crude bone claw stuck in the end of his arm with a spike. A necklace with several teeth dangling from it hung under his snout. Leaning against the side of the throne was a staff with a very elaborate Infernape carving perched on top of it. Goku, Ete, and Ignik's eyes were instantly drawn to the staff, recognizing it at once for what it was: the staff of Sun Wukong, King of the Monkeys. Even standing several feet away, they could feel its power tugging at them…but Goku and Ignik felt it most of all, for after all, were they not descendants of the staff's original owner?

The triplets knelt before the seated Primeape and bowed their heads. "Father, we have returned with Goku and the delegation from Pokémon Square," Cilan said.

"So I can see," the Primeape, Pokong, grunted. He narrowed his good eye at the visitors. "There's a lot more of them than I expected."

"It's a dangerous world," Goky said. "Anything could happen just by stepping outside and taking a walk in the woods."

"Or when walking into the camp of one of the most powerful and dangerous warlords in Kanjohenn, you mean? Ha! It's good to see spending time with your new friends hasn't softened your edge, Goku," Pokong said with a laugh.

"If anything, they've sharpened it. It would be a mistake to underestimate them, Pokong. These are the Pokémon who defeated Gal and tore down Mt. Blaze, after all," Goku said.

"Hmmph, too true, too true. And are any of those who slew Gal among you?" Pokong asked.

"They are not," Goku reported.

"Good. There are many under my command that are still loyal to Gal's memory, and wouldn't take me letting his killers into my camp lightly. There's only so much I can do to control all of them, after all. I am only one mon," Pokong said.

"A mon capable of defeating armies single-handedly," Goku said.

"Kinda literally," Ignik said, staring morbidly at Pokong's prosthetic.

"Ha! You flatter me, Goku. I haven't done much army-defeating lately. I'm an old mon, after all." He grinned. "Then again, you don't get to be as old as I am in this line of work without learning a few things."

"I pray that I shall live to grow as old as you, Pokong," Goku said.

"Heh. So do I, lad. I spared your life the last time we fought because I saw potential in you…didn't expect you to side with our enemies, though." Pokong shrugged. "Ah well, life rarely goes like we expect it to. I never expected to lose to Gal and become part of his Horde, I never expected Gal and his Horde to be beaten by an alliance of powerful Pokémon including the Hero of Aura Aaron, and I certainly didn't expect to even consider having peace talks with my worst enemies. Then again, these are strange times. I've even heard that Pokémon have traveled to a world beyond the sky to defeat a great evil. The world is changing, and I haven't lasted this long without recognizing when to go with the flow and change with it. I may be old, but I'd like to think I'm not that set in my ways, especially when it pertains to my own survival and that of my tribe."

"Then you would be amenable to peace between your people and Pokémon Square?" Goku asked.

Pokong sighed. "When you're young and hot-blooded, it's one thing to swear blood oaths and vows and pacts to destroy your enemy no matter what, even at the cost of your own life. Especially given our way of life, where the young don't usually last long enough to be old. When you get to be my age, though, it pays to get some perspective on life, especially if it means you'll keep living. I could continue the vendetta against the civilized world if I chose to. I could cause you a lot of trouble, destroy some of those new towns you've been working on, rape and pillage and loot and all that…

"And then you'll just call down your friends with all the big armies and divine intervention and wipe us all out, and what'll we have to show for our efforts except some ruined countryside which will be replanted or built over within a few years and a mountain of corpses which will be forgotten in a few generations? What's the point?"

"Then-" Goku started.

"I'm not done," Pokong said with a frown. "I'm willing to talk terms, but that doesn't mean I'm surrendering. Just because I acknowledge that your side is stronger doesn't necessarily mean I agree with your way of life. The way of the barbarian is harsh and cruel, I will admit that much, but it is also embracing our inner natures. It's violent and nasty, yes, but so is nature. Survival of the fittest and all that. Whereas the civilized world relies more and more on technology and the sorts of things our ancestors never needed and could live fairly well without, things the humans depended on to keep us, and the rest of the world, in line…and look where it got them. You seen any humans around lately?"

"I'm a human," Gilbert muttered.

"You don't exactly look like one," Bianca said. The Squirtle scowled at her.

"The human race wasn't wiped out due to an overreliance on technology," Goku said.

"Maybe not, but it certainly didn't stop them from getting wiped out," Pokong pointed out. "Whereas we're still here. But instead of living free in the wild and doing as we please, so many of us now live in towns and cities and rely on the same sorts of tools our former masters tried to use. Are they emulating humans? Is it only a matter of time before the Pokéballs are recreated and we use them against each other? We enslave other Pokémon, sure, but we would never use a tool as vile as all that. Well…most of us wouldn't, anyway."

"You say that…and yet you have an artifact capable of controlling every monkey Pokémon in Kanjohenn right next to you," Goku pointed out.

"True enough," Pokong conceded. "But I only intend to use it as a last resort, if I am not satisfied by the outcome of our little talk, and have concluded that there can never be peace between our peoples. You say you want peace? We don't want to be relocated or locked up or killed."

"Then let us work together to find a way that we can both get what we want," Goku said.

"…All right. It's what I brought you here for, after all," Pokong said with a slow nod.

Goku nodded. "Then shall we move to a more private setting, or-"

Pokong shook his head. "This concerns the future of my tribe. We do this here, where everyone can see us. That, and they might get a bit Durantsy about me being alone with some of our worst enemies, if you know what I mean."

"Very well. We shall do this here," Goku said. He hesitated. "And, ah, the staff?"

"If we can come to an agreement, I'll give it to you," Pokong said. "I doubt I'll need it once we're through…but I'm fairly certain you will. I've heard rumblings. Although I'm not particularly interested in taking part—at least, not unless I have to—there's word going about that the big attack on Pokémon Square is going to happen soon. Very soon. They say the Hive Queen's got some new superweapon that'll make her unstoppable…and there's even some talk of Gal coming back from the dead, but that's not likely." He shrugged. "Then again, if a mon can go to a world beyond the sky…who knows what else is possible now?"

"We have heard similar rumors," Goku said. "The power of that staff would be a valuable asset for the coming fight."

"As well as the fulfillment of destiny, as the line of Wukong finally takes its place as ruler of all the monkey Pokémon in Kanjohenn," Ete said reverently.

"The things I'd do if I got my hands on that thing…" Ignik said, drooling.

"Which is probably why I'll never let you have it, brother," Goku said.

Ignik sighed. "Yeah…even I admit it's probably for the best…"

"So. Make me an offer. If we were to ally ourselves with Pokémon Square, what's in it for us?" Pokong asked.

"Well, for one thing you'd be pardoned of all the crimes you and your subordinates have committed against the people of Kanjohenn," Goku said.

"That means nobody is going to hunt you down and make you pay for destroying their homes and killing and/or raping their family without getting in trouble themselves," Ete clarified.

"Oh?" Pokong asked, perking up.

"But if you commit any new crimes, then you'll be caught and tried for it," Goku said quickly, seeing where this was going.

"Oh," Pokong said, looking disappointed.

"Yeah, major bummer, right?" Ignik said.

"In addition, you'll be able to take advantage of the technological benefits of the civilized world," Goku continued.

"Didn't I just tell you why I don't trust technology?" Pokong asked with a scowl.

"I don't blame him, really. Whenever I try to use that coffee machine thing I get burns all over. And don't get me started on that microwave whosits!" Ignik griped.

"While I understand you believe our kind should live purely in the wild, the technology offered by the civilized world should not be rejected so quickly," Goku said. "For one thing, it can improve the quality of life of your people, give you longer lifespans, and maybe even replace that hand of yours. Not just with a more effective prosthesis, but actually regrow your missing hand. And eye too, possibly."

Pokong looked slightly more interested in this. "…Get my hand back, huh? Well, I have to admit, this old thing doesn't quite cut it sometimes…" Pokong admitted, shaking his claw. "And living longer sounds promising…hrmm. What else've you got?"

Marina snorted. "What, that's not enough for him? Typical…"

"Marina, quiet, they're talking," Jimmy hissed.

"Yeah, Marina, be quiet!" Vincent whispered extremely loudly. His friends glared at him. "What?"

"Ambassador?" Goku asked, glancing at Stoutroot.

The Venusaur nodded and walked forwards, the Rescue Teams and soldiers moving out of the way so he could pass, though Don George and several Fichinan soldiers stayed at his sides. "I took the liberty of drafting a rough version of the treaty we can use to ratify peace between our peoples, with a loose outline of what we can provide for you and what we'll expect in return. There's plenty of room for change, so if there are any points you disagree with, we can discuss it—hopefully reasonably—and come to an acceptable compromise."

"And who, exactly, are you?" Pokong asked. "You don't look like you're from Pokémon Square. No badge, no scarf…and there's something different about you…" He sniffed the air a couple of times. His eye widened. "Is that…magic?! Goku, you brought magicians into my domain?!" Several of the barbarians stiffened and reached for their weapons. Tensing, the delegation did the same.

"Pokémon Square is now an ally of the country of Fichina," Stoutroot said calmly, unperturbed by the rising tensions. "Ours is a land of magic, yes. However, we have no intention of using our power against you unless you give us a reason to. We will cast no spells to alter your thinking patterns or make you more willing to give in to our terms, if that's what you're afraid of."

"Actually, I was more worried about my blood being boiled from within, but now I'm concerned about that, too," Pokong said.

"Pokong, I vouch for the Ambassador and the other Fichinans, just as I do the rest of the delegation. We are not here to do you or yours any harm unless provoked," Goku said.

Pokong relaxed slightly. Very slightly. "Well…if you speak for them, then I guess…but why are they here to begin with?"

"As I said, Pokémon Square is now an ally of Fichina, so we have a vested interest in the city's continued well-being," Stoutroot said smoothly.

"In addition, Ambassador Stoutroot here is one of the world's greatest diplomats. He has been able to negotiate treaties between countless countries and tribes and help them resolve conflicts without spilling a single drop of blood," Goku said.

"It is said that he once managed to not only convince a terrorist cell that had kidnapped him and was trying to hold him for ransom to let him go, but helped them reconcile with the government they opposed and work together for a brighter future for their country," Ete said.

"That actually happened to me five times, believe it or not," Stoutroot said, somewhat embarrassed. "I'm starting to think I'm being abducted exactly so I can do that…"

"Your dad really did all that?" asked the amazed George.

The Ivysaur blushed. "Well, there's a reason some call him the Ultimate Diplomat…of course, not everyone is willing to listen to him, otherwise we wouldn't have any more wars, would we?"

"Let's hope Pokong is willing to listen to him, then," Max said.

Hubie glanced at his watch, counting down the seconds.

"If anyone can come up with a treaty that can help us create peace, it's him," Goku said. "I've only glanced at the treaty draft so far, but from what I've seen already I'm fairly certain you'll be pleased with the terms."

"All right. Let's see it, then," Pokong said, crossing his arms across his chest.

"But one hint of any funny magic business, and we'll kill you all where you stand!" Chili vowed.

"Well, unless they use their magic to turn our heads into cabbages," Cilan said.

"…That hadn't occurred to me," Chili admitted.

"Ugh, I hate cabbages," Cress complained.

3, Hubie thought as the second hand ticked forward.

Stoutroot extended a vine. A long wooden case inlaid with beautiful gold engravings and runes was grasped in it. "Here is the treaty draft. This special case has made sure it would not be damaged or tampered with by anyone but myself on our way here, so you can trust that I am the only one who's touched it since leaving Pokémon Square."

2, Hubie thought as the second hand ticked forward.

"I'm not sure I trust anything about you, mage, but if Goku says you're reliable I'll believe him…for now," Pokong said. "Let's see it, then. You'll have to read it to me, since as a poor stupid barbarian I can't read or write, naturally." There were a few amused snickers from the surrounding barbarians at this, and several members of the delegation couldn't help cracking a smile as well.

1, Hubie thought as the second hand ticked forward.

"Very well," Stoutroot said, touching another vine to one of the many markings on the case. All the inlays glowed briefly, then dimmed. Stoutroot flicked open the clasps and opened the case…

0, Hubie thought as the second hand reached twelve, snapping the watch shut. He glanced up. Everyone in the camp was frozen…not in time, but in shock at seeing the three Pokémon who had suddenly appeared as if from thin air around Stoutroot: a pink Celebi, a Grovyle with a sword, and a Dusknoir wearing gauntlets. The Celebi was reaching into the open case and the rolled-up document inside, a seemingly identical one clutched tightly in her other hand.

"Wh-what the-" Stoutroot stammered.

"What is the meaning of this?!" Pokong demanded.

"They aren't with us! Don't kill us!" Ignik screamed.

"Who…who are they?!" Ete gasped.

Rui gasped. "Wes! It's…"

"Paradox," Wes sneered.

"And that brute who so traumatized poor Spite and Edgar!" Ursula gasped, though the two members of Team Ebony showed no visible reactions to the appearance of the trio of time travelers.

"It's those Team Quantum jerks!" Pichu cried, drawing his sword.

"What are they doing here?!" Gilbert demanded.

"Up to no good, no doubt!" Junior snorted, drawing Chazz.

"Well…that depends on your point of view, actually," Hubie said, putting his watch away.

Bianca blinked. "Huh? What are you talking about?"

"…Hubie?" George asked in concern.

"What the…how are they seeing us?! We should be moving between seconds!" Paradox cried in alarm, quickly drawing her hand back from the open case before Stoutroot could snap it shut.

"Something pulled us into linear time…a familiar power…but no, it cannot be! He should not be here!" Crono swore, quickly drawing his sword to defend himself, realizing things were about to go very badly.

"I should not be," Hubie agreed, stepping forwards. "But I am."

Team Quantum stiffened. "No! What are you doing here?!" Paradox gasped.

"History never said anything about you being here!" Aeon protested.

"History doesn't say lots of things," Hubie said, eyes glowing blue. His body started glowing as well. A giant translucent clock face appeared in front of him, hour, minute, and second hands all spinning wildly. He stepped forwards, passing through the clock face…

And when he came out the other side, he was a Piplup no longer, but an Empoleon whose crest resembled the hands of a clock. His bowtie was still fastened around his neck, and his badge gleamed on his chest, though a second badge was now sitting beside it; a clock with swords for hands positioned at a minute to twelve. He extended a flipper, and a trident whose prongs also resembled the hands of a clock materialized in it.

"No way…" Zachary whispered.

"What's happening?!" Melanie cried.

"Something awesome!" Junior said eagerly.

"Not necessarily…" Torch said, eyes narrowing in suspicion.

"No…it can't be!" George whispered in shock.

"How very unexpected," Mizula said.

"…Or is it?" Max asked slowly, several ideas snapping together in his head to form an unpleasant possibility.

"No…no!" shouted Paradox.

"You have your powers and memories back?! That is not possible!" Aeon cried.

"Glenn…" Crono whispered.

The Empoleon that had once been Hubie grinned. "You should know by now, old friend, that nothing is impossible. And now…Marle, Crono, Janus, I think it's long past time we have a very, very important talk about what the hell you think you're doing to the time-space continuum!"

Meanwhile, in Pokémon Square…

The concert was going great. The crowd was eating up the Pokérockers' songs with enthusiasm, cheering and waving and even dancing as much as they could given how tightly they were pressed together. The Pokérockers found themselves equally thrilled, and not just from the usual rush of performing in front of cheering fans. There was something about this place, something in the air, that seemed to energize them, bring out the best in them, make them play better and harder than they ever had before. It was wild! They were loving every second of it, and so were their adoring fans!

Unfortunately, the fun was about to come to a rather abrupt end. "MUSIRANGERS!" a voice shouted, rising above the din of the rock music from the band's current song to pierce everyone's ears. "I HAVE COME FOR YOU!"

Black Diamond Iwark faltered, striking the wrong drum. "Huh? Did anyone hear something?"

"I did," Hombre said, his hand dropping from his guitar strings. "And I see something too," he said as dozens of Noise sigils suddenly appeared out of thin air and monstrous Noise materialized into being.

"Crud. NOBODY PANIC! IT'S ALL PART OF THE SHOW!" J-Pop shouted into her microphone. From the cries of surprise and screams of fear as the monsters dropped into the crowd, roaring and shrieking, it was clear nobody believed her.

"Yes, it's part of the show all right…the grand finale for your careers, and your lives!" the voice from before said. Another Noise sigil appeared on the stage, and a Soodowoodo wearing a yellow suit, white boots, bronze sunglasses, a red scarf, and a red and white afro and false fronds, with Noise tattoos covering his face and limbs arose from it.

"And who are you supposed to be?!" Buzz snarled.

"I am Mirakle B, disciple of Miror B and loyal servant of the great Divatox!" the Soodowoodo boasted, striking a pose. "In the name of my Mistress, I have come here to avenge my mentor and destroy this town of Pokémon Square! Already the screams of terror are giving power to my Mistress and hastening her return!"

"What screams of terror?" Hombre asked.

"Why, the screams of terror from the…crowd…" Mirakle B said slowly, suddenly realizing that nobody was screaming. Confused, he turned to face the audience. What he saw startled him. After the initial shock and panic from the abrupt appearance of the monstrous Noise, the majority of the Pokémon in the crowd had drawn weapons or were charging attacks, facing the monsters with determined looks on their faces. Those who were not standing their ground were being swiftly guided away from the vicinity so they wouldn't get hurt by the fight that was about to break out, and while there were scared looks on their faces, none of them were nearly as terrified as Mirakle B would have liked. The Noise blinked and looked around in confusion, not understanding why nobody seemed to fear them. "I…I don't understand…why aren't they afraid of us?!"

Black Diamond Iwark burst into laughter. "Brother, did you ever come to the wrong concert!"

"Haven't you been paying attention to our tour itinerary, fool? This concert is to boost morale for all the brave mons and womons who've marched off to Mars to fight the Nihilators! Most of the Pokémon in the audience are members of the armed forces from over a dozen nations!" Buzz laughed.

"Not only that, but we're right outside of Pokémon Square, a town that's withstood countless barbarian sieges in the centuries since its construction! Its citizens don't even know the meaning of the word fear, and it's said that even their children are strong enough to rout small armies, and I'm not even positive that's an exaggeration!" J-Pop bragged.

"You have made a big mistake coming here, idiota!" Hombre agreed.

"Ha! Maybe they're strong enough to fight normal opponents…but we're kaijin! You know as well as I do that the military and regular fighters are useless against creatures like us!" Mirakle B said, though he didn't sound certain.

"Then it is a very good thing we are not 'regular fighters,'" Nuken said, rising from his seat. "Dear, I'm afraid I must go and kill some idiots. This should not take too long."

"Have fun, sweetie!" Missy said cheerfully, signaling a servant to bring her some popcorn, sure this was going to be fun.

Charla glanced at her husband. "Think you're up for a good fight?"

"Am I ever!" Charlie said, pounding a fist into a palm. "I've been dying for a good fight ever since Nurse Joy gave me the all-clear! And it's been ages since we've fought side by side. This is gonna be fun."

Raiki drew his sword. "Welp, looks like I'm needed. Delia, will you be fine up here?"

Delia nodded. "Certainly, honey, I'll have a great view of the carnage. Have fun!"

"May I come as well?" Kageie asked.

"Sure thing! But try not to get in the way, you might slow me down," Raiki said. The Tyranitar was not positive that he was joking.

"Oh boy! We're gonna have a battle!" Mimi squealed.

"Which means I'm going to have a lot of people to patch up after this is over…oh well. Such is life," Joy said with a sigh.

"I'm not sure if I'm relieved Zeke's not here…or worried that he's too far away to help," Sally said uneasily. "Still…with everyone else here…I can't imagine these creatures will present us much trouble, will they?"

Gallant looked at his teammates and lovers. "Are you all ready for this?"

"Sure thing. Should be fun. A bunch of monsters should put up more of a fight than those sorry excuses for barbarians we've been beating up recently," Lady said, cracking her neck.

"And it'll be a nice story to tell the children when they get home," Paris said with a giggle.

"Scotty, get the shield online, pronto," the Mayor ordered the Abra. "I don't want any of those monsters appearing in the city! It's a good thing we decided to hold the concert outside the walls, otherwise we'd have a real problem on our hands!"

Scotty saluted. "Aye, sir. I won't let a single one o' those blighters through!" He Teleported away.

"Sabrina, any insights?" the Whiscash asked the oracle.

Sabrina concentrated. "…Things are going to get very intense, and very…confusing. This is but the prelude to a much greater battle. However, it will end in a great victory."

"Yes…but for whom?" the Mayor pressed.

"For us. Probably," Sabrina said. "It's going to be pretty close, though."

The Mayor smiled. "That's good enough for me."

Mollie stared out into the field, eyes wide. "Terrible monsters have just appeared…but instead of retreating to safety, they are staying to fight! What madness is this?! Are they…are they truly so strong that the sights of those creatures do not fill their hearts with terror?! How can they be so confident? And…how…how can I…how can I become that strong as well?"

"And even if you're right, and they can't stop the Noise…you still have us to contend with!" J-Pop declared. "The Brock, start the transformation song!"

"Yes, ma'am!" The Brock said, rushing into the truck cabin and pressing a button that caused the speakers on stage to start pumping out a catchy and very loud song that caused Mirakle B and the other Noise closest to the stage to stagger.

As the music played, J-Pop and the others raised their instruments into the air. "Henshin!" they shouted, making a series of complicated hand or tail movements. "Magical Music Makeup Power-up! Musirangers on the air!"

The microphone, guitar, 'drums,' and keyboard glowed. There was a blinding flash of light and suddenly all of the Pokérockers, including the roadies and tech guys and backup singers and Mizu and The Brock were wearing colorful form-fitting spandex outfits with visored helmets, a cape or scarf thrown in, and the symbols for musical notes embossed on their chests.

The pink-clad tiara-wearing J-Pop raised her instrument, now transformed into a scepter with a golden microphone at the top, into the air. "MusiPink!" Pink smoke and flames and musical notes exploded behind her.

Hombre, who was now wearing green spandex with a red scarf tied around his neck, jammed on his guitar, which was now much fancier-looking with jewels and studs and sequins and flamethrowers worked into it. "MusiGreen!" Green smoke and leaves and musical notes exploded behind him.

Iwark, each segment of his body wrapped in black spandex with a short red cape tied to the back of his 'neck', beat on Heavy G and Heavy F, who had somehow transformed into a pair of actual metal drums with their faces engraved on them. "MusiBlack!" Black smoke and rock dust and musical notes exploded behind him.

Buzz, now wrapped in yellow spandex with black lightning stripes and lightning bolt-shaped horns, hunched, over, fists clenched, before standing up straight, flinging his arms back, and bringing them down with a slam on his keyboard, which was now attached to a harness that held it right in front of his torso at the perfect level to play on, the keys lighting up and playing sweet electronic tones. "MusiYellow!" Yellow smoke and lightning and musical notes exploded behind him.

The Loudred sound techs and living sound systems Meg and Amp were now in matching purple spandex with big holes for their giant mouths. They opened those mouths wide and belted out some incredibly powerful purple-tinged sound waves "MusiPurple One and Two!" Purple smoke and sound waves and musical notes exploded behind them.

Jackie the Hitmonlee, the Pokérocker's head bodyguard, was now in brown spandex with big clawed boots that fit his oversized feet. He jabbed his legs about in a series of rapid high-speed kicks, twirled about, and struck a dramatic pose. "MusiBrown!" Brown smoke and glitter and musical notes exploded behind him.

"MusiExtras!" All the other Pokemon who didn't actually sing or perform shouted. Gray smoke and glitter and musical notes exploded behind them.

"MusiManager," Mizu, now wearing blue spandex, said with a sigh. Blue smoke and bubbles and musical notes exploded behind her.

"MusiDriver!" The Brock, who was now wearing gray spandex with his trucker's hat still on, declared. He waited a moment, but there was no explosion, which probably made sense, since he was currently sitting in the truck cab and something like that would probably be catastrophic in this tight space. He sighed, unable to keep himself from being disappointed. He wondered when he'd ever actually be able to do that transformation outside of his cabin. It would look so cool, and pick him up so many babes…

"Musirangers: rock on!" the transformed Pokerockers shouted, posing dramatically. There was a tremendous explosion behind them. Even though they were focused on the Noise in their midst, a great deal of the fans couldn't help cheering.

"I think even you are going to have trouble fighting me, Musirangers, even with all your new friends!" Mirakle B bragged. "Divatox has filled me with a power great enough to destroy all of you…and I brought a few more friends of my own!" Even more Noise sigils appeared, and suddenly there were hundreds of Noise on the ground or in the air.

"You do realize that there's like a ton of airships and stuff above us that can blast those airborne Noise to pieces, right?" MusiBrown pointed out.

Mirakle B flushed. "Sh-shut up! The flying Noise are plenty strong enough to take care of themselves! And besides, they can't fire on the ground without hurting all these civilians and soldiers! I still have an advantage!"

"Yeah, but so do we…because we aren't the only Poké Rangers here!" MusiManager said.

Mirakle B froze. "Wait…what?!"

In the crowd, six Pokémon tapped complicated-looking wristwatches and raised them into the air. "It's time for Time Force!" five shouted, while the sixth yelled, "Quantum Power!"

DNA swirls emerged from their wrist devices and merged with their chests. In a flash of light, each of them was clad in colorful spandex with geometric shapes on their helmets and chests. "Time Force Red!" shouted a red-clad Blaziken.

"Time Force Pink!" shouted a pink-clad Lopunny.

"Time Force Blue!" shouted a blue-clad Accelgor.

"Time Force Green!" shouted a green-clad Duosion.

"Time Force Yellow!" shouted a yellow-clad Conkeldurr.

"Quantum Ranger!" shouted a red-clad Tyrantrum.

"Poké Rangers, Time Force!" they declared as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them. (Yes, I know they were also on Mars. They're time travelers, remember?)

Six Pokémon dialed their cell phones and held them up to their ears. "WILD ACCESS!"

In a flash of light from their phones, each of them was clad in colorful spandex with clawed gloves, helmets sculpted to look like…well, the Pokémon each of them was, to be honest, and logos of those Pokemon on their chests. "Blazing Pyroar!" roared a red-clad Pyroar.

"Noble Persian!" purred a white-clad Persian.

"Iron Tauros!" bellowed a black-clad Tauros.

"Surging Sharpedo!" shrieked a blue-clad Sharpedo.

"Soaring Braviary!" screeched a yellow-clad Braviary.

"Howling Mightyena!" howled a silver and blue-clad Mightyena.

"Guardians of the Earth, united…we ROAR! Poké Rangers Wild Force!" the six shouted as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them.

A group of Draconian ninjas appeared from the shadows and made a series of complex hand motions before touching devices on their wrists, or, in one instance, a green and gold sphere. "Ninja Storm, Ranger Form!" three of them cried.

"Thunder Storm, Ranger Form!" two of them cried.

"Samurai Storm, Ranger Form!" one of them cried.

In gusts of wind and bursts of lightning, each of them was clad in colorful spandex with circular gold insignias on their chests and katanas sheathed on their backs. "Power of air!" cried a red-clad Staraptor.

"Power of water!" cried a blue-clad Lanturn.

"Power of earth!" cried a yellow-clad Luxray.

"Power of thunder!" cried a crimson-clad Heracross and a navy-clad Pinsir.

"Power of the samurai!" cried a green-clad Ninjask wearing a gold vest.

"Poké Rangers, Ninja Storm!" the six shouted as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them.

Five fossil Pokémon came forward and pressed jeweled bracelets on their wrists. "Dino Lightning, power up!" four of them cried.

"White Ranger, Dino Power!" one of them cried instead.

They backflipped or spun in the air, and in a flash of light, each of them was clad in colorful spandex with white triangles down the sides and gold insignias of three-toed feet on their chests. "Tyranno power!" cried a red-clad Tyrantrum (yes, another one).

"Bastio power!" cried a blue-clad Bastiodon.

"Aero power!" cried a yellow-clad Aerodactyl.

"Auro power!" cried a black-clad Aurorus with gold pauldrons.

"Drago Aero power!" cried a white-clad Aerodactyl with jagged black triangles down the sides of his costume, a white mantle, and a red visor, unlike the other four.

"Poké Rangers, Dino Lightning!" the five shouted as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them.

A group of eight Pokémon stepped forwards. Seven of them raised cell phones in the air and started dialing, while one held up a wand. "Magical Source, Mystic Force!" they cried.

"GALWIT MYSTO RANGER," a voice that sounded a lot like Queen Ninianne's boomed as mystical circles descended over the eight, cladding them in colored spandex and capes and—in a couple of cases—armor.

"Strong as a tree! Green Mystic Ranger!" declared a green-clad Tauros.

"Ever-changing as the wind! Pink Mystic Ranger!" declared a pink-clad Aromatisse.

"Fluid as the sea! Blue Mystic Ranger!" declared a blue-clad Dewgong.

"Fast as lightning! Yellow Mystic Ranger!" declared a yellow-clad Fearow.

"Forceful as fire! Red Mystic Ranger!" declared a red-clad Talonflame.

"Flurry of snow! White Mystic Ranger!" declared a white-clad Froslass without a cape.

"Power of the sun! Solar Knight!" declared a gold-clad Solrock.

"Burning heart of fire! Mightyena Warrior!" declared a Mightyena in red armor. (Yes, another one)

"We call forth the magic! Poké Rangers, Mystic Force!" the eight declared as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them.

Three Pokémon put on sunglasses, one fiddled with a device on his wrist, one adjusted a thick metal glove with a massive blade, seven made a series of complex hand motions, and two engulfed themselves in colored flames. "Jungle Beast, spirit unleashed!" they cried.

They made more hand motions, colored light trailing their movements, and in flashes of light and snarling Pokémon-shaped spiritual energy projections, each of them was wearing colored spandex or armor with what looked like black claw marks on the fronts. "With the strength of the Persian! Jungle Fury Red Ranger!" cried a red-clad Persian. (Yes, another one.)

"With the speed of the Jolteon! Jungle Fury Yellow Ranger!" cried a yellow-clad Jolteon.

"With the stealth of the Liepard! Jungle Fury Blue Ranger!" cried a blue-clad Liepard.

"With the courage of the Manectric! Jungle Fury Violet Ranger!" cried a violet-clad Manectric.

"With the power of the Rhyperior! Jungle Fury White Ranger!" cried a white-clad Rhyperior.

"There is training in one's livelihood. Jungle Fury will be achieved on a daily basis. Jungle Fury Silver Master!" cried a silver-clad Purugly.

"There is training while having fun. With the strength of the Donphan! Jungle Fury Green Master!" cried a green-clad Donphan.

"There is training while in a trance. With the grace of the Swoobat! Jungle Fury Black Master!" cried a black-clad Swoobat.

"There is 'Sharpedoin' while training. With the ferocity of the Sharpedo! Jungle Fury Navy Master!" cried a navy-clad Sharpedo. (Yes, another one)

"The wild wiseman! With the heart of the Slaking! Jungle Fury Gray Master!" cried a gray-clad Slaking.

"The splendid fighting goddess! With the supreme technique of the Empoleon! Jungle Fury Gold Master!" cried a gold-clad Empoleon.

"The Savanna Shortstop! With the undying body of the Sawsbuck! Jungle Fury Brown Master!" cried a brown-clad Sawsbuck.

"As purely fierce as a Luxray, as powerful as a Luxray, I am the black Luxray Rio, Jungle Fury Onyx Ranger!" roared a Luxray in black armor with gold trim. (Yes, another one)

"For Rio's love I live, for Rio's love I fight as his love warrior, the Kecleon Mistress Camille, Jungle Fury Emerald Ranger!" hissed a Kecleon in emerald armor.

"We summon the animal spirits from within! Poké Rangers, Jungle Fury!" the fourteen cried as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them.

"RPM, Get in Gear!" shouted a group of seven, inserting a cartridge into their cell phones or wrist devices.

Screens of light with pieces of costumes and gear passed over them, and in flashes of light, each of them was wearing colored spandex with stylized numbers on their chests and grooved metal bracers on their wrists and ankles. "RPM Red!" said a red-clad Swellow.

"RPM Blue!" said a blue-clad Luxray. (Yes, another one)

"RPM Yellow!" said a yellow-clad Ursaring.

"RPM Green!" said a green-clad Sharpedo. (Yes, another one.)

"RPM Black!" said a black-clad Mightyena. (Yes, ANOTHER one.)

"RPM Gold!" said a gold-clad Unfezant.

"RPM Silver!" said a silver-clad Persian. (Yes, another one.)

"Poké Rangers, RPM!" the seven shouted as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them.

Eight Pokémon stood in place as two lines of black-robed Pokémon beating drums passed before and behind them, briefly shielding them from view behind lengthy paper screens. When the screens were gone, the six were now wearing gis. Seven of them took out cell phones which transformed into brushes which they used to paint kanji in the air, while the eighth just floated there. "Go Go Samurai!" six cried, one shouted "Gold power!" and the eighth just floated there.

The kanji enlarged, spun about, and slammed into them, causing them all to be clad in colorful spandex and wielding katanas with visors sort of resembling their individual kanji. "Red Samurai Ranger, Jayden Shiba," said a red-clad Pyroar. (Yes, another one.)

"The same, Red Samurai Ranger, Lauren Shiba," said another red-clad Pyroar, this one female.

"The same, Blue Samurai Ranger, Kevin Ikenami," said a blue-clad Goodra.

"The same, Pink Samurai Ranger, Mia Watanabe," said a pink-clad Grotle.

"The same, Green Samurai Ranger, Mike Tani," said a green-clad Ursaring.

"The same, Yellow Samurai Ranger, Emily Hanaori," said a yellow-clad Ambipom.

"The same, Gold Samurai Ranger, Antonio Garcia," said a gold and blue-clad Crawdaunt.

"Last, DaiGoyo!" said a mechanical Lampent cheerfully.

"The Samurai Rangers authorized by Providence…" said the male Pyroar.

"Poké Rangers Samurai! Going forth!" the eight declared as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them.

Five Pokémon slapped cards into hand-held card readers that looked like tiki heads. A sixth…just stood there, clearly not needing to bother transforming since he was already a robotic Luxray (Yes, ANOTHER one) that looked like a knight. "Go Go Mega Force!" the five declared.

"SUMMON BATTLE GEAR!" a disembodied voice shouted.

In a flash of light, the five Pokémon were wearing colored spandex with lots of fancy gold crests and emblems on them. "Fury of the Dragon! Mega Force Red!" cried a red-clad Salamence.

"Flames of the Phoenix! Mega Force Pink!" cried a pink-clad Talonflame. (Yes, another one.)

"Venom of the Snake! Mega Force Black!" cried a black-clad Seviper.

"Claw of the Cat! Mega Force Yellow!" cried a yellow-clad Persian. (Yes, ANOTHER one.)

"Bite of the Shark! Mega Force Blue!" cried a blue-clad Sharpedo. (Yes, ANOTHER one.)

"Guardian of the Earth! Mecha Knight!" the Luxray cried so as not to be left out.

"Earth's defenders, never surrender! Poké Rangers, Mega Force!" the six declared as they struck a pose, colored explosions blasting behind them.

A whopping ten Pokémon stepped forwards and held up colorful numbered batteries with emblems like Fossil Pokémon on them, shouted, "Brave in!" and…threw them into their mouths.

"CHOMPACHOMP! GABUTYRA!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! CRABLASTER!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! CARRACOTCHI!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! KABUTOR!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! DRISTIO!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! AEROGORDON!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! OMADON!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! BUNRAMPAR!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! LAPRUON!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"CHOMPACHOMP! AUGIGAS!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"Samba change!" they shouted, and…started dancing while samba music played in the background. I am not making this up. After a few seconds of some rather stylish moves, they opened their mouths and colorful fossil Pokémon heads shot out from them, flew around, grew even larger, and chomped down on their bodies, causing them to instantly be clad in colorful spandex with yellow sashes down the front with black zigzags resembling teeth and a spiked shoulder pad resembling an eye.

"VAMOLA!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice.

"Listen and be amazed! The Fanged Hero! Electrosaur Red!" screamed a red-clad Tyrantrum. (Yes, another one.)

"The Bullet Hero! Electrosaur Black!" screamed a black-clad Cradily.

"The Armored Hero! Electrosaur Blue!" screamed a blue-clad Carracosta.

"The Slashing Hero! Electrosaur Green!" screamed a green-clad Kabutops.

"The Horned Heroine! Electrosaur Pink!" screamed a pink-clad Bastiodon. (Yes, another one.)

"The Thunderous Hero! Electrosaur Gold is here!" screamed a gold and blue-clad Aerodactyl. (Yes, another one.)

"The Steel Hero! Electrosaur Cyan!" screamed a cyan-clad Omastar.

"The Clashing Hero! Electrosaur Gray!" screamed a gray-clad Rampardos.

"The Oceanic Heroine! Electrosaur Violet!" screamed a violet-clad Lapras.

"The Flashing Hero! Electrosaur Silver!" screamed a silver-clad Archeops whose costume resembled an Aurorus, making him possibly the only Ranger whose present whose outfit wasn't the same as his species.

"The bravest and strongest in history!" they all declared.

"Poké Rangers!" shouted the Tyrantrum.

"Electrosaur Samba Force!" all shouted.

"Vanquishing evil in heaven's name!" declared the Aerodactyl.

"It's about to get wild! Try and stop us!" the Tyrantrum said as they all struck a pose, colored explosions going off behind them.

"Together, we will defend this Earth! United, we are…" MusiPink said.

"POKÉ RANGERS!" they all shouted, ridiculous amounts of explosions going off behind them.

Mirakle B was completely unimpressed because he was asleep standing up, snoring as a snot bubble went in and out. Incredulous, MusiGreen drew his sword and popped it, startling the Soodowoodo awake. "Gah! Huh?! What'd I miss?!"

"…Are you serious?! We all had a MASSIVE group transformation!" Mystic Force Pink said angrily.

"How could you fall asleep at how rad we all were?!" RPM Green demanded.

"Well, gee, sorry, but your roll calls, transformations, and stock footage effects went on for so long I got bored and fell asleep!" Mirakle B snapped. They all facefaulted.

"You're supposed to stand there and let us transform! Do you have any idea how rude it is to fall asleep?!" Quantum Ranger shouted angrily.

"Yeah, it really hurt our feelings!" Samurai Yellow complained.

"You know what's really rude?! Making a guy wait for like fifteen minutes while you all do this song-and-dance!" Mirakle B retorted.

"Why didn't you just attack anyone while we were doing it?" MusiDriver asked. "MusiDriver never understands why you guys don't do that."

"MusiDriver! Don't give him any ideas!" MusiPink hissed.

"What are all of you doing here, anyway? I thought other Rangers tended not to interfere with each other's business unless there's some massive threat big enough to require a team-up, and I'm self-aware enough to admit that I don't really present such a threat!" Mirakle B argued. "Plus, I thought the other teams hated you and wanted nothing to do with you."

The Musirangers fidgeted. "Hate's…a rather strong word," MusiPink said weakly.

"Not really," Green Samurai Ranger (not to be confused with the Ninja Storm Green Samurai Ranger, totally different) said bluntly. Samurai Pink smacked him. "Ow…"

"We may not like the Musirangers very much-" Time Force Red started.

"Actually, I love their music," Dino Lighting Yellow confessed.

"So do we! It's why we decided to come to the concert instead of going into space to fight the Nihilators on Mars," Electrosaur Red said happily.

"Okay, we may not like the way the Musirangers destroy every city they fight in and don't even bother staying behind to clean up," Time Force Red said in exasperation.

"…Yeah, fair enough," Dino Lighting Yellow admitted.

"We go wild too, but not to that extent," Electrosaur Pink said.

"But they're still Poké Rangers…and as Poké Rangers, we're honor-bound to come to the aid of our fellow Rangers when needed!" Time Force Red continued.

"Dimitria told our mentors and leaders that something big was going to happen here in Pokémon Square. Something worse even than your boss," Wild Force White said.

"So we were dispatched here to help make sure whatever's supposed to happen doesn't destroy the city…or the world!" Jungle Force Violet said.

"And I think you and your friends will make a pretty good warm-up for what's coming," said Wolf Warrior.

"Yeah, whatever, that's nice," Mirakle B said, not really caring. "Regardless, now that we're finally done with all that transformation and roll-call nonsense-"


"OH WHAT NOW?!" Mirakle B shouted.

The gathered Poké Rangers groaned. "Oh no…not those guys…" Electrosaur Black complained.

"What are they doing here? I thought they weren't supposed to get invited to this thing! Who told them we were going to be here?!" Dino Lightning Black demanded.

"Well, uh, it is a heavily publicized concert…and they know the Musirangers are the Pokérockers…and they're fans of both, probably, given what massive otaku they are…" Time Force Green pointed out.

"Ugh…there's never any way to escape them, is there?" the Ninja Storm Green Samurai Ranger (not to be confused with the Samurai Green Ranger, totally different.) complained.

"Doesn't look that way," Wild Force Black grunted.

A car covered in rather ridiculous decals, stickers, and other decorations related to Poké Rangers and anime with a rather sexy Florges wearing both armor and a schoolgirl outfit on the hood managed to inch its way through the crowd. The doors slammed open and four Pokémon, one guy and three girls, stumbled out. "It was a long, exhausting drive here from Akiba, but we have finally made it!" the male, a very dorky-looking 29-year old Slowking, declared. "And now we shall fulfill our destiny to become official Poké Rangers!"

"The only thing that needs fulfilling right now is my bladder, since you wouldn't let us have a single rest stop on the way over here!" a female Mienshao growled.

"Justice waits for nothing! Not even bathroom breaks!" the Slowking shouted. "And besides, that's what all those empty water bottles were for!"

The Mienshao stared at him for a long moment. "Did you ever learn the part where girl parts and boy parts are different, and our parts aren't penises?" The Slowking stared at her blankly.

A Meowstic dressed as a maid yawned. "Are we there yet, nya?"

"I think so," said a tired Jigglypuff.

"Oh good, nya, I was really getting bored, nya," the Meowstic said in relief, stretching herself out.

"…Who the heck are they?" asked a confused Mirakle B.

"The Akibarangers, a self-styled unofficial Poké Ranger team that's desperately trying to get recognized as a real team by the rest of us, but fail miserably because they're…really, really pathetic," MusiManager said wearily.

Mirakle B stared at the four, who were now arguing about who was going to drive on the way back. "Yeah, I can buy that. And…how exactly did they drive here? Isn't Akiba on another continent?"

"They get their powers from delusions. Such as, they've deluded themselves into thinking they're actually Poké Rangers, so they have Ranger powers," MusiBrown said. "So they deluded themselves into thinking they could drive to another continent, and here they are."

"Alcohol helps. A lot," MusiManager said grimly.

"For them to use their powers, or for you to deal with them?" Mirakle B said.

"Yes," MusiManager said flatly.

"Now that we are here, we shall show our fellow Rangers, and the rest of the world, that we have what it takes to be recognized as an official Poké Ranger team, and can finally be allowed to attend all the awesome reunions and team-ups and special secret barbeques!" the Slowking declared as he and the other three Pokémon pulled out…dolls of the Florges on the hood of their car. "GRAND DELUSION!"

And then, they…kissed the dolls. On the lips. Seriously. "…What the fuck," Mirakle B said.

"Yeah," MusiGreen said. "That's why we don't associate with them."

"I'll admit we're not the best Rangers-" MusiBlack said.

"Actually, you're pretty terrible," RPM Black said bluntly.

"But even we're better than them," MusiBlack said, ignoring him.

"This is true," RPM Black admitted.

"SLURP!" the dolls chirped.

There was a flash of light, and suddenly the four wannabe heroes were clad in colorful latex armor with their helmets molded to look like hair. "Although there are many excellent Gold Rangers, my absolute favorite has to be Electrosaur Gold, because he's a centuries-old samurai who is also an Aerodactyl, which is incredibly cool! Akiba Red!" the red-clad Slowking, whose helmet looked like typical shonen hero hair, declared.

"…I'm his favorite Gold Ranger?" Electrosaur Gold said, flattered.

"That's not a good thing," RPM Gold said. "Really, it's not."

"On the plus side, that means the rest of us will get a little less disturbing fanmail and fewer pictures and fanfics of us in sexual relationships with our teammates now," Samurai Gold said. The others nodded in agreement. Electrosaur Gold swallowed.

"Akiba…" The blue-clad Mienshao, her helmet molded to look like a tomboyish ponytail, did an incredibly complex stunt before finally shouting, "Blue!"

"Um…uh…my, uh, my favorite…Boukenger monster…was the one that could…er…turn into a car?" the blue-clad Jigglypuff, her helmet looking like odangos, said uncertainly.

"Is she thinking of a Transformer or one of our Zords?" asked the confused RPM Green.

"Actually, she's talking about a monster we fought," Mystic Force Blue said. "…Probably."

"Oh," RPM Green said.

The Jigglypuff laughed nervously. "Uh…whoops? Ah…Akiba Blue!...II!"

"…They have two blue Rangers?" asked the perplexed Mirakle B.

"Well, sure, why not? I mean, Ninja Storm has two blue Rangers, and so does Jungle Fury, and Electrosaur Samba Force…" MusiPink said.

"Well, yeah, but you at least have different names for your colored Rangers, or at least different shades of blue," Mirakle B said.

"The first Akiba Blue had to leave to get a job with the military in another country, but then came back when it ended, found she'd been replaced, and wanted her old place back on the team," MusiManager explained. "So they compromised."

"Ah," Mirakle B said.

"So at the last convention I went to I was dressed as this super-cute Sliggoo with actual slime and I was dripping all over the place and I ran into the voice actors of one of my favorite animes and asked him if he was in a relationship with the actor playing the other male lead on the show who was in a relationship with his character because I thought it would be super kawaii and add another layer of complexity to the yaoi manga I've been writing and-" the yellow-clad Mewostic, her helmet resembling girlish pigtails, rambled.

"Pain is power! Ready!" the Slowking interrupted loudly, which was probably for the best.

They struck a dramatic pose, or a rather ridiculous one meant to look dramatic. "Unofficial Heroes, Akibarangers!" A spectacular colored explosion failed to occur behind them. They looked at each other in confusion, shifted a little without breaking their stances, and waited. And waited. Someone coughed.

Finally, Akiba Blue II said, "I don't think it's-"

Abruptly, a multicolored explosion occurred right behind them, causing them to scream and fall over. "WHY DOES THAT KEEP HAPPENING?!" Akiba Red screamed.

"OW, MY EARS, NYA!" Akiba Yellow wailed.

"I THINK I'M ON FIRE!" Akiba Blue cried out, frantically flailing her burning arms.


Akiba Blue dropped to the ground and rolled about. The fire spread to her entire body. "THAT JUST MADE IT WORSE!" she cried.

And then the car, which had been right next to them and therefore was very close to the explosion, blew up as well, knocking them over again. "AHHHH! NO! THE ITASSHAR!" Akiba Red shrieked as he quickly shot back to his feet.




"PUT IT OUT! PUT IT OUT! PUT IT OUT!" screamed Akiba Blue, who was still on fire.

"Great idea! Maybe it'll still work if we put the fire out!" Akiba Red said desperately.

"NOT THE CAR, ME, YOU IDIOTS!" Akiba Blue screamed as her teammates ignored her to desperately try to put out the burning car.

"…So! Anyway!" MusiPink said loudly, turning to face the very confused Mirakle B with a wide smile on her face. "Shall we get started?"

"Uh, aren't you going to help them?" Mirakle B asked, staring at the Akibarangers, all of whom were on fire now and screaming.

"Help who?" MusiPink asked sweetly.

"…Right," Mirakle B said slowly, deciding it was better to emulate the others and pretend the Akibarangers did not exist. "Right! I'm here to fight you and avenge my master, Miror B! Noise, attack!" He waited. Nothing happened. "Noise, attack!" he repeated. He waited. Nothing happened. "Noise…attack?" He waited. Nothing happened.

"Uh, why aren't they attacking?" asked MusiBrown.

"How should I know?!" Mirakle B snapped, looking around. Much to his confusion, there were no Noise in sight. They were all gone. "What…where did they go?! Did you lot do something to them?!"

The Rangers, equally confused, looked at each other and shrugged cluelessly. "How could we? We were here talking to you the whole time!" MusiGreen said.

"Then where did they go?!" Mirakle B demanded.

"Oh, we killed them all already," Raiki said as he walked up, wiping black blood from his sword.

Mirakle B and all the other Rangers stared at him. "You…killed them all already," MusiManager said slowly.

"That's right," Charlie said as he and Charla swooped down and landed nearby.

"While you were all busy transforming, we decided not to wait and attacked the monsters while you were otherwise occupied," Nuken said as he floated over, the entire front of his shell covered in Noise blood.

"All those explosions of yours were actually quite helpful. They wiped out approximately a third of the monsters and saved us some time," Gallant said.

"…You're welcome?" Mecha Knight said uncertainly.

"I've been a Ranger for a very long time…and I can safely say that's never happened before…" Dino Lightning Black said.

"Actually, we weaponize our explosions all the time-" RPM Blue said.

"He meant the civilians destroying all the monsters before we were even ready," Mystic Force White said.

"Oh. Yes. That's new," RPM Blue admitted.

"I feel rather embarrassed…did they just do our job better than us?!" Time Force Green said.

"Looks that way," said a Mareepish Ninja Storm Crimson.

"It would seem that even we veteran heroes still have much to learn," Jungle Fury Black said, impressed.

"They…they destroyed all my Noise?! That's not possible! They're not Rangers! They shouldn't be able to do that!" Mirakle B protested.

"We told you they were strong," Buzz said. "…Then again, I didn't know they were that strong…"

"Heheheheh, those are our boys," said the pleased Mayor.

"Not all of them are from Pokémon Square," Sabrina pointed out.

"They're here, fighting alongside us. They're our boys to me," the Mayor said.

"Incredible!" Mollie gasped, jaw dropped. "They killed all those monsters…and made it look easy! Is this, then, how this town has managed to defy the natural order and survive wave after wave of barbarian attack for hundreds of years? Impossible. Inconceivable. I WANT TO BE A PART OF THAT!"

"W-well…there's more where that came from!" Mirakle B said nervously. He whipped out a cell phone, frantically dialed it, and held it up to his ear.

"…Is he making a phone call?" said an incredulous Nuken.

"That's kinda rude," Raiki said.

"Should we attack him?" Kageie asked.

"No, that would be even ruder," Gallant said firmly.

"Moshi moshi," Divatox's voice said in Mirakle B's ear.

"Mistress Divatox! Hi!" Mirakle B said anxiously. "Quick question. Do you think you could send me a few more Noise? Like, I dunno, a couple of thousand? Please?"

"Mmm…no," Divatox said after a moment's thought.

"What?!" Mirakle B squealed in anguish.

"Yeah, see, considering how easily the last bunch were wiped out, I don't really see the point of sending in anymore, especially since we both know they'll probably go down just as easily," Divatox said.

"But-but-but then there's nothing to stop the Rangers from killing me!" Mirakle B shrieked.

"That's your problem. Don't call me again. Divatox out," Divatox said, hanging up.

Mirakle B looked up to see hundreds of very powerful and dangerous warriors staring at him. He laughed nervously. "I don't suppose we could talk this over civilly, could we?"

"No," MusiYellow said.

"All right, everyone, let's finish him off!...with some finishing moves!" MusiPink cried.

"What?! You can't hit me with finishing moves already! We haven't even exchanged blows!" Mirakle B protested.

"Yeah, well, we've got a concert to continue, so we don't really have time for that sort of thing," MusiPink said as the other Ranger teams whipped out their weapons.

"But that's cheating!" Mirakle B protested.

"Meh," MusiPink said, not really caring.

"Vector Weapons, combine!" the main five Time Force Rangers cried, whipping out massive cannons and joining them together to create a massive bazooka. Holding onto it from all sides, they pointed it at Mirakle B, a clock-like crosshair locking onto the target. "Vortex Blaster, fire!" Two shots were fired from the cannon.

"Quantum Defender, Freeze Strike!" Quantum Ranger cried, slashing his sword through the air. An energy slice shot out. It and the blaster shots struck the terrified Mirakle B, causing him to freeze in time. (Time travelers, time-freezing weapons, is this really a surprise?)

The main five Wild Force Rangers took out a boxing glove, a sword, fins, an axe, and a baton, and combined them to form a massive sword which the Red Ranger raised into the air, with the other four supporting him. "Jungle Sword, Savage Slash!" they shouted, swinging the giant sword and sending a massive laser blade flying at Mirakle B.

The Silver Mightyena Ranger took out a silver…pool cue. Yes, really. He also took out three small crystal balls and tossed them into the air. "Lunar Cue, Laser Pool!" he shouted, lining up his cue with one of the balls and striking it, causing it to bound into the others, and they ricocheted through the air, picking up momentum and power, before smashing into the frozen Mirakle B at the same time as the Jungle Sword's attack, sending him flying.

The five main Ninja Storm Rangers combined two blasters, a hammer, a megaphone, and an antler to form another massive cannon. "Thunderstorm Cannon, fire!" they shouted as they held the cannon from all sides and fired it at Mirakle B, sending him flying even further.

"Super Samurai Mode!" cried the Green Ninja Storm Samurai Ranger, throwing off his gold vest—which cratered the ground on impact—swiveling his helmet around to show a new visor. He drew his sword and slashed it through the air. "Samurai Saber!" he cried as the laser blade sliced through Mirakle B, sending him crashing back to the ground.

The five Dino Lightning Rangers combined their two staffs, shield, daggers, and sword to form a massive blaster. (Yes, another one. Get used to it.) "Z-Rex Blaster Super Mode, fire!" they shouted, firing an extremely powerful energy blast shaped like a roaring Tyrantrum head at Mirakle B just as he staggered to his feet, knocking him back down again.

Five of the Mystic Force Rangers dialed on their cell phones. "Legendary Source, Mystic Force!" they cried.

"GALWIT MYSTO NERMAX!" a voice sounding suspiciously like the Queen of Fichina boomed as golden battle armor materialized on the Rangers and staffs with Pyroar heads at the top surrounded by a dial appeared in their hands.

"Element of Earth: Green Legend Warrior!" said the Green Ranger.

"Element of Wind: Pink Legend Warrior!" said the Pink Ranger.

"Element of Water: Blue Legend Warrior!" said the Blue Ranger.

"Element of Lightning: Yellow Legend Warrior!" said the Yellow Ranger.

"Element of Fire: Red Legend Warrior!" said the Red Ranger.

"We call forth the power of Light magic: Mystic Force Legend Warriors!" they cried as still more explosions erupted behind them.

They turned the dials on their staff to 2 and shouted, "Legend Warrior United Formation Attack!" causing blasts of fire, rocks, wind, water, and lightning to shoot out from the Pyroar heads and combine into one massive magical stream.

"Snow Staff!" Mystic Force White Ranger said, pointing her staff at Mirakle B and firing an ice blast.

"Shining Genji Laser Attack!" cried Solar Knight, pointing a golden lamp—I am not making this up—turning a dial on it, and firing a huge squealing genie Meowth made out of smoke from its end—no, I'm not making this up either, honest.

"Fatal Stance!" Wolf Warrior cried, forming two mighty blazing swords and slashing out with them. All the magical attacks struck Mirakle B and combined in a tremendous explosion.

"Claw Cannon!" The Red, Blue, and Yellow Jungle Fury Rangers whipped out a rather small cannon in comparison to the last several resembling a large feline and pointed it at Mirakle B. "Fire!" They fired, sending a blast shaped like a snarling feline at the monster.

"Howling Strike!" howled the Violet Jungle Fury Ranger. A snarling energy projection of a Manectric emerged from his body, howled, and lunged at Mirakle B.

The White Jungle Fury Ranger raised his glove, the blade snapping forward. "Extreme Rhino Slasher!" He leaped into the air and brought his gloved hand down in a mighty karate chop, sending a tremendous energy blade shooting towards Mirakle B.

The seven Masters combined a pair of nunchucks, tonfas, bo staff, mace, fan, swords, and sais together to form an absolutely massive blade which Jungle Fury Silver Master raised into the air while the other Masters supported him. "Jungle Master Ultimate Slash!" he cried, bringing the sword down and firing a massive laser blade at Mirakle B.

"Roar of the Beast King!" Onyx Jungle Ranger roared, a massive black Luxray energy projection forming from his body and lashing out at Mirakle B.

"Thousand Stabs!" Emerald Jungle Ranger hissed, opening her mouth and stabbing her long tongue forwards. The many attacks struck Mirakle B and sent him flying, howling in agony.

The five main RPM Rangers combined their sword, two blasters, remote-controlled car launcher, and axe to form a weapon that was really more of a long track designed to launch something from it. "RPM Enforcer, fire!" they cried, inserting their cartridges and launching RPM Yellow's remote-controlled car down the track and into Mirakle B at super-high speeds.

RPM Gold and Silver combined their daggers with their morphers to create blasters which they pointed at Mirakle B. "Skyshift Blazer, fire!" they shouted, inserting their cartridges and firing laser blasts at the monster. The car and laser blasts collided, flinging Mirakle B back with a great explosion.

The (male) Red Samurai Ranger pulled out a ridiculously massive red zanbato, turned it so its blunt edge pointed upwards, and then loaded a disk with kanji on it into a grove on the edge. The four other main Rangers loaded their disks in as well, then helped the Red Ranger aim the zanbato at Mirakle B. "Multi-Disc Cannon!" they cried, channeling their power into the zanbato and causing the five disks to launch off and smash into Mirakle B one after another, each exploding with fire, leaves, water, air, and rocks.

The female Red Samurai Ranger took out a black box and stuck a disk into it. "Super Samurai Mode!" she cried, slamming the lid of the box shut on the disk, sticking it to the hilt of her katana, and spinning it. A beautiful white jacket materialized around her body. She then spun the sword again, causing the blade to burst into flame. "Super Blazing Strike!" she lashed out with the sword, sending a wave of fire at Mirakle B.

Samurai Gold Ranger grabbed DaiGoyo and pointed him at Mirakle B. "Light Disks, Fire!"

"Fire, fire, fire!" the mechanical Lampent said cheerfully as he spewed disk after disk at Mirakle B. The many disks and fire slash collided with Mirakle B, exploding and causing him to howl in pain.

The five main Mega Force Rangers took out swords with empty glass globes at the top and stuck gold Pokémon heads on sockets in the globes. "Mega Force Ultra Mode, activate!" they cried, raising the swords into the air. The golden heads spun and fired golden energy streams into the air, which transformed into pieces of ornate gold armor that materialized over the Ranger's costumes. "Ultra Mode, ready!"

"Storm Power! Ultra Mega Force Red!" said the Red Ranger.

"Wind Power! Ultra Mega Force Pink!" said the Pink Ranger.

"Rock Power! Ultra Mega Force Black!" said the Black Ranger.

"Jungle Power! Ultra Mega Force Yellow!" said the Yellow Ranger.

"Wave Power! Ultra Mega Force Blue!" said the Blue Ranger.

"Earth's defenders, never surrender! Mega Force Ultra Mode!" they shouted together as explosions…oh, you get the drill.

They slapped their tiki head-shaped morphers onto their Ultra Swords and placed cards reading Ultra Gosei Dynamic into them. "Ultra Gosei Dynamic!"

"ULTRA GOSEI DYNAMIC," a voice boomed.

"Ultra Strike!" the Rangers shouted, thrusting the globed ends of their swords at Mirakle B. The golden Pokémon heads spun and fired golden energy blasts that combined to form a massive golden crest that flew at the monster.

Mecha Knight dialed on a cell phone, then swpped out a card depicting a Luxray-headed gatling gun through it. "Vulcan Cannon!"

"SUMMON VULCAN CANNON," a voice boomed.

The card transformed into a gatling, and Mecha Knight stuck it into his mouth and aimed himself at Mirakle B. "Reaching Full Power, Applying Maximum Force!" he cried as he powered up. "Knight Dynamic, Fire!" He fired, shooting several energy bullets that combined into another powerful golden crest flying at the enemy. The two crests combined and smashed into Mirakle B, inflicting massive damage.

"Brave in!" Electrosaur Red cried, holding up a battery with +1 written on it and tossed it into his mouth.

"CHOMPACHOMP! OVERCHAAARGE!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice as the Tyrantrum glowed with incredible power…and shrank back down into a Tyrunt, though his costume changed sizes to fit him. "OHPARTYTIME! CARNIVAL!" The Tyrunt started happily dancing around while samba music played, and then a Tyrunt head-shaped projection flew out of his mouth, enlarged, and slammed its jaws shut on him, causing his costume to transform. He now had gold frills growing from the back of his helmet, chest armor resembling a Tyrantrum head, and zigzags dividing his legs and tail into red and white

"Electrosaur Red Carnival!" he declared as…guess what happened behind him. As the other nine Rangers crowded around on either side and touched his shoulders, he held out two new batteries. "Victory Beast Battery! Maximum Beast Battery! Victory Brave in! Maximum Brave In!"

He ate the Victory Battery. "EVERYBODY GATHER AROUNDCHOMP!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice. He ate the Maximum Battery. "NOW IT'S REALLY PARTYTIME!"

The Tyrunt opened his mouth, energy gathering there as the other Rangers poured their power into him. "Ten Electrosaur Victory Maximum Finish!" they cried together just before the Red Ranger exhaled, sending ten energy projections of Fossil Pokémon heads streaking towards Mirakle B.

"EVERYBODY AT THE SAMBA CARNVIAL!" shouted an extremely over-the-top voice as the heads smashed into the Soodowoodo and exploded spectacularly.

Smoking, sparking, and badly beaten, Mirakle B collapsed to the ground. "P-please…" he sobbed. "No more…"

"Yeah, I kind of agree. This has gone on long enough," Raiki complained. "I'd say how long, but I'm not wearing a watch."

"I'm getting a little tired of all these flashy over-the-top attacks. Can't you just kill him already?" said an annoyed Charla.

"I'd be perfectly happy to do it if nobody else would," Nuken offered.

"No, we've got this. This should finish it!" MusiPink announced.

"Shouldn't the last several attacks have done that, since they were all technically 'finishing moves?'" King asked.

"…Yes, but this one will really finish it!" MusiPink said stubbornly.

"All Rangers, on the stage, front and center!" MusiManager shouted.

"All of us are here already," MusiGreen said from right next to her. "We never left."

"…Shut up," MusiManager grumbled.

Holo-projectors in the truck's sides activated, causing the already crowded field to transform into a an even more packed open-air stadium full of thousands of screaming fans, much to the confusion and surprise of Mirakle B, who immediately found himself lost in the crowd, as did all the other very real Pokémon who had been the audience for the real concert not too long ago.

"Time for the grand finale!" MusiPink declared as rock music started playing and the illusionary fans cheered. "Rock Star Legendary Dream!"

She, MusiGreen, MusiYellow, and MusiBlack started going wild on their instruments as tons of lasers and rockets and other wicked SFX activated on the stage, lighting up the fake stadium. The lasers and rockets zigzagged through the air before locking onto Mirakle B and streaking right towards him. The Soodowoodo screamed and tried to make a break for it, but was packed in too tightly by all the raving fans, who didn't seem particularly fazed by their impending destruction. The missiles struck the area where Mirakle B was standing, creating a powerful explosion that flung the screaming Soodowood up into the air. Spotlights mounted on the framework of the stage pivoted to focus their beams on him as the lead Rangers continued to churn out epic rock. One after another, the MusiExtra leaped into the air towards Mirakle B, holograms appearing over them to cause them to look like rock legends of the past just before they struck the Soodowoodo, causing him to get attacked by what had to be just about every great rock and roll musician who had ever lived, one by one.

Once all the MusiExtras had attacked, their trajectory carrying them past the villain and back to the ground, the lead Rangers leaped into the air, still playing their instruments all the while. MusiBrown lashed out with a powerful kick. MusiBlack smashed his drums into Mirakle B's head in a flurry of rocks. MusiYellow slammed his keyboard over the Ludicolo's head, creating an electrical explosion. MusiGreen broke his guitar over Mirakle B's head in a shower of leaves. Once all of them had struck and passed by Mirakle B, MusiPink rose up to finish the job, microphone raised over her head, the tip bursting into pink flames. "BUUUUUURNING…ROCKERRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!" she screamed as she slammed the burning instrument into Mirakle B's face. The impact sent Mirakle B flying high into the air, the spotlights still trained on him as MusiPink gracefully descended into the illusionary mosh pit that had caught her teammates, the ecstatic holographic fans eagerly grabbing her as she fell and putting her safely on the ground. As the fans put the rest of the team on the ground and backed away, the Musirangers struck a pose, and far above them Mirakle B exploded in a spectacular display of fireworks, while the rock anthem that had been playing all along reached its climax and came to a stop. The fans roared in delight, cheering and applauding so loudly the Rangers could barely hear themselves think.

Up on the stage, MusiManager grinned. "Musirangers, that's a mega-hit!"

"Yeah! What did you think of that, Pokémon Square?!" MusiPink screamed as the hologram faded away. The hundreds of Pokémon gave her somewhat bored and annoyed looks. "…Er…is it something I said?"

"After the last several minutes of non-stop super-flashy moves, they've gotten rather jaded and just wanted it to end as quickly as possible," Raiki said. "And then you went and did a move longer than all the others combined. They're not happy."

MusiPink blinked. "What, really?"

"Well, I know I'm not," Raiki said. The other non-Rangers around him nodded in agreement.

"Oh…uh…sorry?" MusiPink said, embarrassed.

"Well, now that that's over with, maybe we can go back to the concert and pretend this never happened?" Kageie suggested.

"That does not sound like a bad idea," Charla said.

"Unfortunately, it's not over yet," Nuken said grimly.

"What now?!" Forsythia cried.

"Well-" Nuken started, when suddenly the Akibarangers burst out of the crowd, lugging a bizarre contraption made from a pair of giant handcuffs, a shovel, a winged backpack, a pair of mechanical hands, an enormous buckler, and a colorful ball and chain.

"We're sorry it took so long, Official Rangers!" Akiba Red shouted. "It took us a while to put out the fire…a long while…an embarrassingly long while…but once we finished, we were able to assemble our Ludicrous Cannon-Bazooka to finish off the monster so we can become Official Rangers!"

The Ninja Storm Rangers winced. "Why did we ever give them that ball?"

"And why did the other teams give them those other items?!" Mystic Force Pink complained.

"Pity, probably," Wild Force Blue said.

"I gave them a flag once…the poor dears just looked so sad when we wouldn't let them ride in our Zord…" RPM Yellow Ranger said.

"And I gave them a brush…thought they might be able to take up painting or something…then they started sending us those horrible, horrible pictures…" the female Samurai Red Ranger said.

"And I gave them a microphone once," Mega Force Blue said.

"A microphone?" Electrosaur Silver asked.

Mega Force Blue shrugged. "It was the only thing on hand…and they kept pestering me…and then they started singing my team's theme song…very badly…so very, very badly…" He shuddered at the memory.

"Sorry, but you're a bit late. The monster just exploded," Raiki said.

"It did?" Akibared asked, looking crestfallen.

"Yep. Quite spectacularly too," Charlie said.

"Oh…well…maybe we'll have better luck next time!" Akiba Blue II said optimistically.

Nuken glanced at the other Rangers, who were shaking their heads vigorously. "No, you won't," he said flatly, taking perverse pleasure in seeing their spirits completely and utterly break before his eyes.

"That was not nice," Kageie said with a frown.

"I don't do nice," Nuken said flatly.

The Ninja Storm Rangers nodded. "He really doesn't," the Crimson Thunder Ranger said.

"Not even to me…and I'm…uh…" the Green Samurai Ninja Storm Ranger trailed off before he could say he was Nuken's nephew, which was supposed to be a secret. "Yeah…never mind."

"So, can we go back to the concert, or…" Gallant said.

"No, like I said, we're not through yet," Nuken said. "One last thing has to happen before this…incident can be put behind us."

"And that would be…?" Charlie asked.

"Well…" Nuken said.

Meanwhile, in the Dark Ampitheater…

Divatox and all the other Noise stared blankly at the TV screen, unable to fathom what they'd just seen. "…What the FUCK just happened?!" the evil Meloetta said finally. "Was my Noise army creamed by freaking normal Pokémon?! Not Poké Rangers or other superheroes, but goddamn civilians?!"

"Most of them were soldiers and extremely skilled warriors," Kitanji said hesitantly.

"You and I both know that's practically the same thing as a civilian in our line of work!" Divatox snapped, causing him to flinch back. "And then my monster was ganged up on and beaten up by a whopping eleven Ranger teams?! That's ridiculous! They shouldn't have been there! Why didn't anyone tell me they were going to be there?!"

"Well, maybe-" Konishi started.

"That was a rhetorical question!" Divatox shouted, causing the singer to cringe.

Everyone waited anxiously for Divatox to stop shaking with fury and calm down. "So…are you going to revive Mirakle B as a giant or not?" Higashizawa asked timidly once his mistress had caught her breath.

Minamimoto snorted. "Are you kidding? Did you see how many Rangers they had there? And warships? And a flying fortress? And those SOHCAHTOA civilians?! They'd smoke him in a freaking picosecond! He'd be zetta toast!"

Divatox sighed as she rubbed her temples, feeling a headache coming on. "Maybe so, but…well, I need every bit of chaos I can gather at the moment. I'm so close to freedom. So. CLOSE. I can sense it on the horizon, a dissonance so vast and terrible it'll rend time and space to shreds. Reviving Mirakle B at this point would only help bring us that much closer to our grand return. So we might as well." Although she was starting to have serious doubts about making Pokémon Square the first stop on her comeback tour. The people there were strong. Too strong, maybe even for her.

Oh well, she'd cross that bridge when she came to it. The Noise filling every seat of the amphitheater applauded and cheered raucously as Divatox rose from her throne and snapped her fingers. Two Empoleon Noise waddled over to her from backstage carrying a large guitar case between them wrapped in chains, the case rattling and shaking ominously. They stopped in front of her and bowed, extending their flippers to hold the case out in offering. With a smirk, Divatox swiped a hand through the air, causing the chains to shatter. The case flew open in a blast of purple-black flames, revealing an electric guitar that looked like it was made from the twisted bones and sinews of some demonic creature, which wasn't far from the truth. A sinister grin spread across her face as the guitar levitated out of the case and into her hands. She stroked it as if it were a lover, the instrument of death and destruction shuddering and seeming to purr under her touch.

The Noise in the audience cheered ecstatically as Divatox gave a savage fanged grin and declared, "It's time to give Mirakle B an encore performance! A one, a two, a one two three four!" Her hand swung down across the strings of her guitar, triggering a massive power chord that set the monstrous Noise behind her playing while the audience went wild and Konishi began to sing, the sound waves they were generating actually turning visible and taking on an eerie resemblance to the Noise tattoos. The savage music from the evil band washed over the joyous Noise in the Audience, echoed throughout the Dark Ampitheater, and tore through the dimensional barrier into the Pokémon world, bathing Pokémon Square in its sound.

Everyone looked up in alarm as Divatox's tunes rang out around them, knowing something bad—and entirely expected—was about to happen. "Everyone, brace yourselves, you know what's coming!" MusiManager declared.

"I don't," Kageie said.

"Divatox is using her evil power to revive the monster we just killed as a giant, so we'll have to summon our giant robots to fight it," the Red Mega Force Ranger said.

Kageie blinked. "…Really?"

"Yes," the Red Mega Force Ranger said.

"Oh," said the Tyranitar.

"Yes, this sort of thing inevitably happens every time a monster is defeated," Nuken said.

"Why don't they just get into the giant robots first and…I don't know…stomp on the monster while it's small or something?" Raiki asked. Everyone stared at him like he was a complete idiot. "…It was just a suggestion…" he grumbled.

"Oh! Oh! Can we help?!" Akiba Red asked eagerly.

The other Rangers exchanged panicked looks. "Uh…sure…" Dino Lightning Black said slowly. "You can…uh…"

"Be on crowd control! Get everyone to safety!" Time Force Yellow said.

"Yes! That! What she said!" Dino Lightning Black said eagerly.

Akiba Red saluted eagerly. "We can do that!"

"We can, nya?" Akiba Yellow said skeptically.

"Yes, we can!" Akiba Red hissed.

"That won't be necessary. We aren't going anywhere," Nuken said.

MusiManager frowned. "Sir, I know that you're a veteran fighter, but unless you have experience killing giant monsters-"

"I do," Nuken said.

"…You do?" MusiManager asked.

"Yes," Nuken said.

"So do I," Raiki said.

"And me," Charlie said, raising a claw.

"A lot of us have, actually," Gallant said as his teammates and several other mons nodded.

"Oh," MusiManager said. "Well…uh…"

"Not to mention we don't even really need the robots, we have several very powerful airships, as well as the Sky Tower, whose main cannon can obliterate entire cities," Nuken said.

"It can? Really?" asked the impressed Charla.

"Oh yes, we're quite proud of it," Nuken said proudly.

"Er, yes, but, be that as it may-" MusiManager said uncertainly.

"Here it comes!" MusiBrown shouted.

An evil-looking ring of black sigils centered around the image of a skull formed on the ground nearby. The ring glowed with a black light, the ground shook, and a whole mess of Noise tattoos flowed out of the skull and into the air, weaving around each other and intertwining and solidifying to take on a massive, monstrous, and familiar form.

The tattoos hardened, glowed, and shattered, revealing a gigantic Mirakle B covered in Noise tattoos. "Yes! I am reborn!" the giant Soodowoodo cried. "And now, I shall destroy-"

Without warning, a giant mechanical foot shot down and slammed onto Mirakle B, crushing him completely. A few wisps of Noise markings wafted out from underneath the foot, and then no more.

Everyone stared at the foot, and the even bigger robot it was attached to, in disbelief. "Wow," Kageie said. "That was fast."

"Nice job, whoever did that," said a dazed Reg.

"That…uh…that wasn't…that's not one of ours," said a shaken Jungle Fury Blue Ranger.

"No…" Raiki said, narrowing his eyes at the giant red R emblazoned on the chest of the giant robot, a mechanical Tyranitar so tall its head spikes were scraping the clouds at a height even greater than that of the Sky Tower, its mountainous frame blotting out the Sun and casting a great shadow over not just the field, not just the town, not just Firefly Bay, but quite a lot of the land beyond it, too. "But I think I know whose it is!"

"GIOVANNI!" Charlie roared, eyes flashing and tail flame blazing in fury.

High above them, in the control center of Project T—the Tyranitron—Giovanni chuckled. "At long last, I have come home…strange, to think of Pokémon Square as my home…but then, after living in it for so many years, I suppose it is only fitting to see it as such." He grinned. "Nevertheless, I have returned after far too long an absence…and from this unassuming town, I shall create the capitol of my eternal empire and rule the world!"

"Your orders, sir?" Pierce asked, glancing up at his master.

"Ready the Rocket Stylers, and prepare for battle…it is time for Team Rocket to conquer Pokémon Square, and then…the world!" Giovanni declared.


In the darkness, three beings, separated by physical distance but connected by their hearts, stirred in their slumber.

Awaken, my children.

One of the beings grunted and turned over in his sleep. "Mother? Is that you?" he mumbled.

Yes. You must awaken, my dear ones. The time of prophecy has come at last.

Another figure shifted, struggling to open its eyes. "Then…does that mean…"

Yes. Pokémon Square's darkest hour is fast approaching.

"Then let us go," the third figure said, blearily blinking away its sleep. "For we have much work to do."

And so Pokémon Square's greatest, most secretive line of defense began to get up after almost a thousand years of slumber.

Meanwhile, deep beneath the sea…

Things got dark rather quickly as Caserin's band journeyed into the Bottomless Sea. Very dark. They had already been rather deep when they reached the chasm, so it had been quite dim to begin with, but now they were far beyond the Sun's reach, and its warm light had become little more than a memory.

They carried no lights. Mack had spoken out vehemently against it. "The things down here, they don't like light, see," he had said. "If they're anything like…similar creatures I've encountered before. Well, 'don't like' is a bit of an understatement. A more proper description would be to say that they hate it, but even that doesn't fully describe the sheer loathing they have for the light. If it were within their power, they would destroy all light everywhere, and cast the entire world into a darkness as vast and endless as their home."

"Whyever would anyone want to do such a thing?" the shaken Caserin had asked.

Mack had shrugged. "Some people just want to watch the world burn, kid…er,, wait, that wouldn't make sense to you either…look, there's some very, very bad things out there that want to see you and everything you care for completely and utterly destroyed for no reason other than that they exist, let's just put it at that."

"That does not make me feel much better," Caserin had said nervously.

"Good," Mack had said.

"It makes me feel better," Styx said.

"We don't care," Mr. Fish had said bluntly.

Of course, without any light, that meant they were going to have some trouble navigating in the darkness. Fortunately, Mack claimed he could see perfectly in the dark ("A little bonus from one of my…previous ventures," he'd said cryptically) and so served as their guide, with very strong ropes tying the group together so that they wouldn't get lost or separated from each other, which the savvy fish informed them would mean almost instant death. (They had to tie Styx up very carefully to make sure he didn't cut or bite through his bindings.)

"Of course, this also means if one of us gets caught, that means we'll probably all be dragged to a horrible demise," Mack had admitted.

"That sounds promising," Styx had said eagerly.

"Not everyone wants to die, you know," Sheila had said in disgust.

The Alomomola had given her a dumbfounded look. "Whyever not?"

Conversation was kept to a minimum. Mack had told them that if they were to survive, they needed to be as inobtrusive as possible so as not to awaken some of the more dangerous…things down here, things that would most certainly not be as friendly as ed'Rastekeresket t'k Gh'shestaesteh. Naturally, Styx had started singing at the top of his lungs, which caused the others to desperately beat the crap out of him and gag him before he could get them all killed.

So, they traveled in utter darkness and almost absolute silence. The darkness was absolute and eternal, going before and behind them in every direction, crushing down upon them just as oppressively as the water pressure would have if they weren't Water Pokemon (well, for the most part) and therefore mostly immune to that kind of thing.

And there were things in the darkness. They could sense them staring at them, waiting. Watching. Bruce shuddered a few times and started whimpering about 'blood in the water' and 'the Pale Slayer' and the desperate mantra of 'fish are friends not food, fish are friends not food, fish are friends not food,' reminding them that ed'Rastekeresket t'k Gh'shestaesteh was never too far away. But he was not the only presence they could feel in the pit with them, and the malevolence from those unseen entities made the Master Sharpedo seem like a kindly saint in comparison.

A few times, they saw a light somewhere in the darkness, far off, pale and sickly but oddly alluring, as well as rather jarring to eyes that could not seem to grow accustomed to the sheer blackness surrounding them no matter how long they stared into it. Mack always pulled them away from the lights as quickly as he could, warning them that they were traps for the unwary, that it wasn't light at all but a trick on the mind generated by…things that had power over the psyche, and that getting eaten would be the best-case scenario if they ran into the things making those lights…and even then, getting eaten might not necessarily be a quick end.

At one point, a very timid Brian had asked Mack what, exactly, their surroundings looked like. Mack had told him he didn't want to know. Brian, terrified of the darkness, pressed him. Mack said he really didn't want to know. Then the others, equally afraid, started pushing as well, so Mack told them.

They were quiet for a very long time after that, for while the darkness was scary, knowing just what it was concealing made it that much worse.

So, long story short, it was completely and utterly terrifying down there, and even Mr. Fish, a hardened badass Gyarados and therefore something of an apex predator, found himself wishing he were elsewhere.

That wish became all the stronger when suddenly, light (or not light, but a trick of the mind generated by…things that had power over the psyche, but whatever) flared to life around them. It originated from glowing spots on the abdomens of a group of grotesque squid-like Pokemon with long tentacle limbs and tentacles for hair, with a pair of cruel eyes glittering with malice framing a rather nasty beak. "Malamar!" Sheila gasped in horror, reaching for her seamitars.

"They're among the vilest creatures in the deep!" cried Caserin, flinching back.

"Mmmph mmph mph MMMMPH!" Styx mumbled eagerly, surging forwards, only to be pulled back by the exasperated Brian.

"Finally, something we can fight!" Mr. Fish snarled, relieved that he finally had something he could take his fear and anxiety out on.

"Wait!" Mack cried, quickly swimming in front of the Gyarados and Sheila, who'd drawn her blades. "I wouldn't do that if I were you! These creatures are Deep Ones. They're basically servants of some of the…things that live down here, things you would not want to run into, things that would drive you completely and utterly mad from horror if you so much as caught a glimpse of them, and that's if you're lucky. If we get into a fight with them, their masters will not be happy! And trust me, you do not want that!"

"Not to mention that if we fight them, there'll be blood…and if there's blood…" Caserin said nervously, glancing back at Bruce.

"B-blood…darkness…s-so much blood…" the Sharpedo stammered, his teeth chattering against each other.

"Yeah…given his current state, I think it would be a very bad idea if there was blood in the water," Brian agreed nervously.

"Not to mention it would attract the attention of ed'Rastekeresket t'k Gh'shestaesteh," Mack agreed.

"What are we to do, then? These creatures look as if they mean us some serious harm!" Caserin said nervously.

"Oh, 'harm' is not nearly a good enough word for their intentions," Mack said soberly. "Don't worry, let me handle this, I know how to talk to these kinds of people." He turned to the Malamar. "Ahem. Sh'tghk'lui awuq'rp'fbn mn'vjz x'e?"

The Malamar blinked and exchanged surprised looks. One of them leaned forward, opened its beak, and said, in a voice that sent thrills of primal terror down the spines of the party, "Wer'ty zzzzn'gks akale'k'k'e ph'tyqe ulit?"

"Ololololo tryhg'j'l'k aden'bz tyga'k'k," Mack said, pulling out a medallion showing an eye surrounded by tentacles.

The Malamar looked astonished and fell upon themselves, murmuring in their strange language, occasionally glancing at Mack and the others before returning to their conversation. "You know their language?" asked an amazed Sheila.

"I know lots of things," Mack muttered.

"Yes, but how did you know that?" Brian pressed.

"Mack's been all over the world and seen and done lots of things," Caserin said. "He probably picked it up along the way."

"What did he see and do that taught him how to speak to the horrible servants of oceanic Eldritch Abominations?!" Mr. Fish asked incredulously.

"I'll explain later," Mack said, hoping he really wouldn't have to.

The Malamar turned back to the group. "X'ha ghk'it wryuip asdkf l'qzerp nimv'reck?" one of them asked.

"Dfty'znm mh'fh'ks xxxxyr fa'dr'ea kl'iw xi'v eteeee," Mack said.

The Malamar nodded. "Trwenx ha's'g't'z pqw'fius'x gjtyajhvi'dahz'w l."

Abruptly, the lights went out, and they were thrown back into darkness. "AAAHHH! THEY'RE COMING AT US OUT OF THE DARK!" Brian screamed.

"Actually, they left," Mack said.

"Oh," Brian said, embarrassed. "Um…if anyone smells anything funny, that totally wasn't me. Honest."

"Yes it was," Mr. Fish said.

"Shut up!" the Poliwhirl hissed.

"Well done, Mack!" Caserin congratulated his friend.

"Yeah…but what is it that you did, exactly?" Mr. Fish asked suspiciously.

"I convinced them to let us pass," Mack said, deciding not to mention he'd promised they could have Styx on the return trip. They'd deal with that later. "They'll spread the word that we're not to be bothered on our quest, though not everyone might heed the warning, so we're still going to need to be on our guard."

"…I find that a little hard to believe. Malamar aren't exactly known for going out of their way to be friendly to other Pokemon," Sheila said incredulously.

"Yes, well…I have a way of convincing people," Mack said.

Mr. Fish snorted. "People I can believe. But Malamar? The Pokemon who lure prey close with their hypnotic powers then kill and devour them in horrible ways?"

"Aren't you from a species that's reputed to fly into rages that can last for months and destroy entire cities?" Caserin said pointedly. "And Bruce is from a species that's known as 'the bullies of the sea' but he's one of the most decent people I know!...granted, he's constantly struggling to keep from killing us, but…still!"

"That stuff's part of our natures. Can't be helped," Mr. Fish said stubbornly. "But Malamar…that stuff I said? They do it for fun."

"Yeah, and how was he able to speak their language, anyway?" Brian asked suspiciously. "How do we know Mack's not working with them and is the traitor we keep getting warned about?"

"Mack would never sell us out!" Caserin said fervently.

Mack was very glad it was dark and nobody could see him flinch at that. Especially because he'd already sold Styx out, though he was pretty sure the Alomomola would be happy with the arrangement. "I'm not…working with them, per se, but we are…ah, related in a sense."

"What do you mean?" Caserin asked, puzzled.

"What, was your mom a Malamar or something?" Sheila asked.

"No, nothing like that," Mack said. He thought for a moment, and then decided to tell them the truth. Or rather, part of it. "I'm a member of a group called the Order of Yog-Soggoth. Basically, we worship an entity back where I'm from that's similar to the creatures the Deep Ones like the Malamar serve. Same kind of being, more or less. You know, ancient immortal being from another dimension, lots of tentacles, etc. As such, I know the proper language used by servants of the Great Old Ones. They recognized me as being…well, an envoy like them, more or less, so they let us through."

This did not ease their suspicions. "Then you're working for a horrible monster like they are?!" Sheila cried.

"You really are the traitor!" Mr. Fish snarled.

"No, he's not!" Caserin protested…though there was a hint of doubt in his voice now.

Mack grimaced. "It's not like that! Yog-Soggoth is…well, I wouldn't exactly call him good, per se, they don't see morality the same way we do, but he's mellowed out a lot from the world-destroying monster he used to be and mainly just wants to be left alone in his retirement. The Order is…it once used to be a crazy cult obsessed with trying to bring him back to our world, but these days it's more or less just a niche club where guys like me to hang out, let off some steam after a long day at work or dealing with the wife and kids, make some friends and build a social network, play some games, learn a few things…we even have a little fantasy football. Er, finball. It's a hobby, something to do on the side."

"…Oh. You mean like most secret societies and private clubs?" Mr. Fish said.

"Yes!" Mack said, relieved they were buying it. "A bunch of grown men—er, mons—and some womon dressing up in robes, going through intricate but ultimately meaningless rituals, and hanging out. That sort of thing. Of course, most of those societies don't worship an alien horror, but details."

"Well…I guess that's reasonable," Sheila said, putting her seamitars away, though she didn't look entirely convinced.

"You see? I told you Mack was on our side!" Caserin said in relief.

"Yes. Yes, I am," Mack said.

Brian sighed. "Whatever. Can we keep going? I don't want to stick around in case those guys change their mind and come back."

"It's unlikely that they will, but you're right, we must push on," Mack agreed.

"Death awaits us," Bruce moaned. Styx squealed in delight at this.

"That's nice," Mack said absently.

They continued into the depths. The Aqua-Monica was waiting for them.

Meanwhile, in the Berry Kingdom…

Callista and Maylene burst into the throne room and found the Berry King and Queen trying to deal with some rather frantic and alarmed officials while several courtiers looked on from the sides. A worried Hissssa and the rest of Team Nightshade were already there, having arrived just a few moments ahead of the sisters. "Caspen! I got your message, what's going on?" the Lucario asked, catching sight of her husband.

The Gallade ran over, kissed her on the lips, and said, "Elijah is dead."

Callista and Maylene gasped. "What?! How?!" Maylene demanded.

"We're not sure. Right now it's looking like Princess Sara is the culprit," Caspen said grimly.

"What?! The Princess?!" Callista said in disbelief.

"That's not possible!" Maylene protested.

"That's what I keep trying to tell them! There's no way the Princess would ever do something like that!" Maren agreed.

"He was decapitated. The shape of the wound is consistent with an Air Slash attack, which Princess Sara knew," Caspen said.

"That doesn't mean anything," Janine pointed out. "Lots of Pokemon know Air Slashes."

"This is true," Caspen admitted. "But we can't find Sara anywhere, so either someone was able to somehow sneak through our barrier—which prevents anyone with evil intent from entering our kingdom—kill my brother, and kidnap Sara, or…"

"No…I won't believe it…I refuse to believe it!" Maren said fervently.

"I'm inclined to agree. It makes no sense! The question of why she'd do something like that aside, how could she kill him? I thought murder was like, impossible in this kingdom or something," Jerry said.

"So did we. And yet my brother is dead," Caspen said grimly.

"Maybe Team Quantum did it and is trying to frame Sara for some reason?" Mary suggested.

"Even I know better than to blame Team Quantum for everything, Mary," Gary said. "While it's possible that they could have done it…why? What do they get out of it?"

"I don't know that, either. But my brother is dead, Sara is missing…and there's other problems as well," Caspen said. "You noticed the shield flicker and the Crystal dim, right?"

"No, uh I was, uh, in the library with your brother Kenshin," Jerry said, blushing.

"And Janine and I were…sparring," Maren said, blushing.

"And Mary and I were…um…" Gary said.

"Napping," Mary said.

"Yes! That! Napping!" Gary said quickly.

"Really? Huh. That sssoundsss boring. HIsssssssa and I were having sssexxx, which wasss way more fun," Evan said.

"It wasss very good," Hissssa said.

"Evan, I think they were having sex," Callista said.

"They were? Really?" Evan said in surprise as the others turned red. "Then why didn't anyone tell me that?" His friends sweatdropped.

"I saw the shield flicker. What's going on?" Maylene asked.

"The Tears of Princes are gone," Caspen said dramatically. Maylene, Callista, Maren and Janine gasped, but everyone else stared at him blankly. The Gallade deflated. "You know…the Tears of Princes? The three jewels orbiting the Luminous Crystal, that help stabilize its power and keep its light pure?"

"Oh, right, thosse thingsss," Evan said.

"I'm guessing they're important?" Mary asked.

"Very," Callista said. "Without the Tears, the Luminous Crystal is no longer as strong. It is also vulnerable to corruption. Without the Tears to keep it pure, it could transform into a Shadow Crystal if it absorbed too much negative energy."

"Then it's a good thing we're in a veritable utopia, so we don't have to worry about that…right?" Jerry asked uncertainly.

"Okay, this is probably Team Quantum's work. I mean, who else could have done it?" Mary asked.

Gary nodded. "I'm inclined to agree…but why? Are they trying to destroy the Berry Kingdom? What are they up to?!"

"There's more," Caspen said.

Janine sighed. "Of course there is."

"The portal we used to send some of our troops to Mars to help with the war against the Nihilators has shut, and the portalstone we got from Fichina shattered," Caspen said.

"Meaning they're stranded on Mars?!" Maylene gasped, horrified.

"Don't worry, we have our best mages working on it. And there's plenty of other resourceful individuals from other countries with them on the red planet, I'm sure they'll find a way back," Caspen said, though he didn't look as if he entirely believed it.

"Some of our forces are on Mars…does that mean we're defenseless?" Jerry asked, worried.

"No, the Berry Kingdom only sent a fraction of their forces to Mars, a larger fraction to aid the monhunt against Morkul, and the rest are near the border," Maren said. "Plus, we still have all those other foreign military outside, including the Mirage Kingdom forces General Hansen and Chancellor Eggmun were able to get to us, so we should be fine…right?"

"About that monhunt…" Caspen said uncomfortably.

"Oh no, don't tell me…" Gary groaned. "They've all been killed, right?"

"Well…it's been a couple of hours since we last got a report from them," Caspen said. "They should have checked in by now."

"So they're probably dead," Mary said bluntly.

"We don't know that," Caspen said.

"But they're probably dead," Mary repeated.

Caspen sighed. "That is a possibility, yes. But that's not what I called you down here for. If something's happened to Sara, it wouldn't surprise me if her piece of the Lemewrian Crest were involved. If so, that means the other pieces are in danger as well."

"Aren't the other pieces all in a secure vault?" Jerry asked.

"My brother was murdered in his own apartment and the Tears of Princes were stolen. I'm not sure our security is very secure anymore," Caspen said grimly.

"Point," the Cherrim said.

"We're a bit shorthanded at the moment trying to find Sara and figure out what's going on with the Tears and the portal and our missing troops. I want you to go to the vault, take the pieces of the Crest, and leave the palace," Caspen continued. "I'd recommend you split up into groups so the fragments won't all be in one place. Don't leave the country, but get far away from here. Once everything's stabilized I'll send for you."

Gary nodded. "All right. We can do that."

"Although by removing the piecccesss, aren't we jussst making it easssier for whoever'sss behind thisss—probably Sssara—to get them?" Evan asked.

"Hence the splitting up part," Caspen said. "Maylene can open the vault for you."

The Lucario nodded. "All right, I can do that."

"Afterwards, I want you to go with them," Caspen said.

"Now that I can't do," Maylene said firmly.

"It's no longer safe here, Maylene. If something's happening, I want you as far from here as possible," Caspen said.

"But I'm your wife! My place is with you!" Maylene protested.

"You may be my wife…but you are also sister of the future Queen of Lemewria, and don't you think she needs protection?" Caspen asked, glancing at the skull-wearing RIolu.

"…I do not need protection, but…I…I would not mind if my sister came with me," Callista said.

Maylene's expression softened. "All right," she relented. "I'll go with them. But only for a little while."

"Let's hope a little while is how long this will last," Caspen said.

Before Team Nightshade could take their leave, however, the throne room doors burst open and the Swords of Justice and kami trio barged in. "My liege! We bring urgent news!" Coballion barked.

The King rose to his feet as the officials turned around in alarm. "What is it?" he asked.

"The entire force that was sent to find Morkul…they've been wiped out to the last mon!" Landorus said.

Everyone in the room gasped. "Called it," Mary grunted.

"What?!" Lavana cried. "But we sent more than enough mons! I thought we had him on the run!"

"So did we," Virizion said grimly.

"And then he got reinforcements. A whole second army of Nihilators, led by the ice witch Bellum," Thundurus said.

Ice the Froslass gasped. "No…not her…"

"Bellum…there's a name I'd hoped to never hear again…" Caspen snarled.

"Bellum…she's that ice witch who's a high-ranking Nihilator, right?" Gary recalled.

"And the mother of one of Ash's current teammates?" Mary said.

Caspen nodded. "She caused trouble around these parts a while back. Ice's master and several other great mages tried to deal with her. We badly underestimated her. The things she did to them were…horrible. We only barely managed to drive her away."

Jerry stiffened. "I remember reading that a long time ago, the whole continent experienced a really nasty winter that lasted for almost a year, and resisted all attempts to clear it up, even with the strongest Sunny Day…was that…"

Caspen nodded. "Bellum. She had heard of our Crystal, like so many other evildoers, and sought it for herself. She tried to freeze all of Almiore because she believed it would make it easier for her to find us and take the Crystal. We managed to stop her, but at great cost."

"And now she's back…that's not good…" Maren murmured.

"True, but at lest she's not on Mars, which will mean those there will have a slightly easier time against the Nihilators," Janine said.

"Yeah. Too bad we've got to deal with her inssstead," Evan said glumly.

"And there's more," Terrakion said.

King Pastizal sighed. "Of course there is. What else?"

"They're here," Keldeo said.

Everyone in the room stiffened. "What?"

"Bellum and Morkul and their army. They're several kilometers outside our borders," Tornadus said. He swallowed. "And…my lord? They've brought something horrible with them."

Pastizal's head snapped around to look at Ice. "Show me!" he commanded.

The Froslass nodded and quickly conjured a hologram. Everyone recoiled back in alarm at what was shown there.

Just outside the barrier separating the Berry Kingdom from the rest of the world was a sizable army made up of divisions lent by numerous countries, including a number of soldiers from both the Berry and Mirage Kingdoms. A couple dozen or so airships and flying battle cruisers hovered above them to lend air support. Several kilometers away from them, across the plains, was another army, even bigger, with a number of nasty-looking black battleships bearing the Nihilator insignia flying overhead. The majority of the soldiers marching beneath the shadows of the ships or flying in the skies above were clad in black armor bearing either the sigil of the Nihilators or the ancient seal of Pokelantis, a six-pointed star in a circle. Their bodies were burning with Shadow Aura and the blackened taint of dark magic, eyes glowing red or green and trailing purple smoke.

However, ships and soldiers weren't the only things this army of darkness had going for them. Four giants loomed over the horde, their every movement trailing Shadow Aura. One was a Heracross grown to twice the size of a monster truck. In fact, it actually looked sort of like a monster truck; with four limbs ending in huge spiked wheels with several pairs of smaller arms growing from its sides and front ending in claws, chainsaws, drills, flamethrowers, lasers, missile launchers, and spiked balls. Its blue hide, more metal than chitin, was covered in decals of flames and skulls and dismembered body parts. Its wing cases were flared open, revealing that instead of wings it had jets spewing massive bursts of fire into the air that approximated the appearance of wings. It had no visible eyes, but it did have an absolutely massive mouth full of several rows of serrated metal teeth constantly rotating and grinding against each other with fire burning deeper down the throat. A second horn rose from the top of its head, much larger and more fearsome than the one growing from its nose, ending in a massive cannon barrel.

"Torque…" Maren whispered, shocked.

Beside the monstrous Heracross was a huge plant monster. Black thorned vines and roots burning with Shadow snaked across the ground, dragging the creature's shambling mass across the ground. A huge black face with red eyes, a mustache of Shadow flames, and a huge mouth full of fangs and tusks sat at the top of the mess of roots and vines, a pair of huge red horns growing from his forehead, huge flaming petals surrounding his face. Flaming cherry petals swirled in the air around him, and six vines ending in smaller versions of his head writhed about, snapping at the cherry petals and anything else that came too close to them.

"Dad…" Jerry whispered, horrified.

And beside the mutated Cherrim was something even more horrifying. A gargantuan Octillery, even bigger than the other two monsters, its skin made of purple and black lava burning with poisonous fumes and Shadow. Spikes and horns of rock sprouted all over its swollen, bulbous head. A long tentacle writhed from the front of its face, beneath four huge almond-shaped red eyes, with a mouth at the end, hissing and spitting acidic ink. Eight burning tentacles writhed out from beneath its head as it crawled across the ground, each ending in a snapping mouth. Disturbingly, each mouth had a tongue with a different appendage at the end made of rock and bone and shadow. One was a claw, one a cannon, one a spiked orb, one a drill, one a buzzsaw, one a chainsaw, one an axe, and one a sword.

"Gooey…" Gary gasped, clenching a hand.

"Team Perdition…they're ssstill alive?!" Evan gasped.

"Well, why not? Ssso are Nando and I," Hissssa hissed angrily.

"And with Morkul as well…that is not good," Janine said.

"What did they do to them?!" Maren cried.

"Morkul has used his dark magic to enhance their demonic powers…as well as granting them the 'gift' of Shadow…" Callista whispered, horrified.

"But that's not all they have," said the stunned Maylene.

"No…it cannot be…" Queen Luthiel said in shock.

"Impossibleness! He was supposed to being sealed away for alls time!" Heath protested.

"And yet he is standing here before us…truly, these are dark times," the King said grimly.

Towering over the three even more monstrous members of Team Perdition was a giant so big that he even stood taller than the highest airship in the army. It had a golem-like shape and was primarily white in coloration, possessing long arms with three fairly human-like white fingers and short legs. It had large yellow bands on its shoulders and wrists, with a sloping section on its chest that appeared to be its head that was also yellow, with seven dot-like eyes arranged in a Braille pattern. Its body was covered in black stripes, and it had moss growing on its back and feet. Six gemstones were placed in two rows on either side of its head, two red, two blue, and two silver. Thick metal bands were wrapped around its waist and wrists. It was none other than Regigigas, king of the giants.

"But how did the Nihilators awaken him? He was supposed to slumber for eternity!" Ice protested.

"Regigigas can be awakened by using Regirock, Regice, and Registeel…" Virizion said.

Terrakion nodded. "And the Nihilators were said to have taken the trio from the Tree of Beginning before destroying it…"

"But how are they controlling him? I thought nobody could control Regigigas!" Caspen protested.

"It'sss obviousssly thossse metal bandsss," Evan said. "I mean, what elssse would they be for?"

"I believe you are right, Evan," Luthiel said, narrowing her eyes.

"He is? Huh. That's not something you hear every day," Gary commented.

"Yeah, it'sss not," Evan agreed.

"In that case, we need to destroy them, to free Regigigas, so he will turn against those who captured him," Pastizal said.

"Easier said than done, my liege, given his size, power…and those other creatures," Lavana said.

"Dammit! I knew they hated us, but…to think they'd go this far! Joining the bad guys?! Becoming…that?!" Gary said bitterly.

"Oh, Father…what have you done?" Jerry whispered.

"My King, Morkul and Bellum's army are too strong for the forces we have stationed outside our borders. We need to retreat back into the barrier. No matter how strong the army is, they cannot pass through the barrier," Coballion recommended.

The King frowned. "The Luminous Crystal has grown weaker with the loss of the Tears of Princes…but it should still be able to withstand this siege long enough for us to come up with a counter-strategy. Lavana, sound the retreat. Call everyone back."

The Infernape nodded. "At once, my King!"

Unfortunately, they wouldn't get the chance. "Wait…what is that?" Heath asked suddenly.

"What is what?" the King asked.

"Those specks of black and orange and whiteness! What are they being?" the Electivire asked, pointing at the image.

"I'll magnify," Ice said.

The hologram zoomed in on the three specks Heath had indicated. They were flying high above Regigigas, and magnification of the image revealed that one was a Froslass surrounded by swirling snowflakes carved with runes, one was an oversized Rotom whose electrical aura had strange runes and other spell markings crackling across it…

And the other was a Togekiss. But it was not a normal Togekiss. For one thing, this one was black rather than white. The red and blue triangle specks on the chest looked like flecks of blood. Its small feet had talons. Its down was sharper, pointier, and razor-edged, losing its soft lines and looking more like a predator than an envoy of peace. Its three-pointed crest looked more like horns, it wore a coronet of black crystals, its eyes were red, fangs were in its mouth, and a red cape with white trim flowed down its back. Shadow, deep and dark, poured off it form in droves, blackening the air around it.

Everyone in the room stiffened. "That's…that's the Mirage King!" Maren cried.

"No," Janine said. "He's not. Not anymore."

"Morkul…" Luthiel whispered, hatred, fury, and…was that fear in her voice?

"No…after hundreds of years…he has finally found us…" Caspen said, horrified.

"Then we must make certain that he does not leave here alive," King Pastizal said coldly.

"But…but, the Mirage King!" Maren protested.

"We will do everything we can to help him," Callista promised, hoping that was a promise she could actually keep.

"And I'm guessing that Froslass and Rotom are Bellum and her other daughter Marianne?" Gary guessed.

"Y-yes. That is her," Ice said, shaken.

The Gengar frowned. It looked as if the Froslass were summoning power, more and more icy glyphs and spell-circles formed from snowflakes materializing around her, while Marianne was rapidly vibrating, hundreds of electrical glyphs pouring off of her, and Morkul beat his wings, streams of Shadow shooting off and swirling around them. "What are they doing?"

"It looks like some sort of spell," Callista said.

"Ice? What are they doing?" Lavana asked.

The Froslass frowned and zoomed her projection in a bit closer, trying to get a better look at the runes and spell forms. "I'm…not sure. It looks like some kind of summoning spell, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone like this except…" She froze, eyes widening in horror. "No. No! S-surely…surely not even she would be mad enough to summon that…would she?!"

"Summon what?" Pastizal demanded. "What is she calling?"

"It can't be!" Ice insisted. "But…but if it is, then…"

"Then what?" Caspen pressed.

"Then…then we may all be doomed," Ice whispered.

Bellum raised a hand, all the magical ice and snow swirling around her coalescing into a single ball of white power. Marianne and Morkul shot the power they had gathered as well into the sphere, filling it with electricity and Shadow. With an utterly horrifying grin they'd be seeing in their nightmares for years to come and a laugh that chilled them to their bones even though they couldn't actually hear it because the projection was image-only, Bellum hurled the ball of magic into the sky. It flew up and up and up until it disappeared…

And then…

With a resounding crash that could be heard all the way in the Berry Palace, the sky shattered. Literally. Huge shards of blue sky with clouds still visible on them tumbled down from a gaping wound in the air, a swirling purple vortex with chunks of ice and snow floating in it. As everyone stared, aghast, at the great rift, something descended from the vortex, something about as big as Regigigas…but far more alien.

"Is…is that…" Gary said incredulously.

"A giant snowflake?!" Mary cried in disbelief.

"Oh, phew! For a sssecond there I thought it'd be sssomething ssscary," Evan said in relief.

"I dunno…that looks pretty scary to me," said the alarmed Jerry.

It was, indeed, a snowflake. A giant snowflake, with six spokes of ice with jagged spikes growing from the sides and a barbed, spiny protrustion growing from the front with an eerie crimson glow emanating from within it. Like all snowflakes, there were many intricate geometric formations made in its design…but somehow, the geometry of this snowflake was wrong, using angles that didn't quite add up, and shapes that shouldn't actually exist. As it fully exited the rift, the air around it grew colder, and frost formed on the ground, and freezing winds started to blow from it, and snow began to fall.

"What…what is that?" said the confused Luthiel.

"It is the Bittercold, the Winds of Despair," Ice said, full of dread. "A creature from the coldest, deepest reaches of Niflheim, that even Shivhel fears…it is an embodiment of negativity and despair, feeding upon mistrust and hatred and growing strong…strong enough to turn entire worlds to ice…"

"Well, we have a big shining crystal of positive energy right above us!" Lavana pointed out. "That should be able to repel it…right?"

"At the moment, yes…" Ice said. "But if it gets too strong, by feeding off the evil within the Nihilators, and our own fear, it might become strong enough to overwhelm the Luminous Crystal…"

"And maybe even turn it into a Shadow Crystal…just as we were warned the Nihilators wanted…" Pastizal snarled. "How do we stop it?"

"I…I'm not sure," Ice confessed. "Summoning Surtrit wouldn't help, it's even stronger than he is…maybe I could banish it? I'd have to check the texts back at the Academy…"

"I'm not sure we have time for that," Callista said.

"How did she even summon something that powerful in the first place?" Luthiel demanded.

"The ice witch was summoning Shivhel in Ditchy Dust by killing people in lots…maybe deaths of soldier troops sent to catch Morkul giving her what she is want?" Heath suggested.

"That could explain it, yes," Ice said.

"Uh, isss it jussst me, or isss it powering up?" Hissssa commented, noticing that the Bittercold's core was glowing and the winds around it were growing stronger.

Ice gasped. "We have to get everyone into the barrier now, before it's-"

It was too late. With a flash of light from the core, the Bittercold unleashed a tremendous blast of cold so great that the entire united army standing at the border of the Berry Kingdom was flash-frozen in seconds. The airships and flying Pokemon, now no more than giant icebergs, tumbled from the sky and were dashed upon the ground below, not only shattering themselves but whatever was underneath them as well.

"NO!" Lavana cried in horror as the Nihilators onscreen cheered and Bellum and Morkul grinned.

"All those people…gone…just like that?!" said the horrified Mary.

"That thing is that powerful?!" said the shocked Jerry.

"And it's just getting started…." Ice whispered.

"Janine…your brother…" Maren asked in concern.

"I'm still alive, so he must have gotten back into the Kingdom before it was too late," Janine said soberly. "I doubt many others were as lucky, though…"

"Sire…if that thing were to get through the barrier…we're finished," Landorus said grimly.

"Then let us find a way to stop it before it can get through the barrier, and do to us what it did to all those poor souls, sons and daughters of Berry and Mirage and other places around the world," Pastizal said solemnly. "Heath, order all the civilians into the shelters. Lavana, mobilize whatever forces we have left and have them on standby. Ice, get back to the Academy, gather your best mages, and find a way to send that thing back where it came from. Someone fetch me the Reveal Glass. Get some guards up to the Luminous Crystal, just in case. And…wait…what is happening now?"

On the hologram, they could see Regigigas stomping towards the barrier, crushing and breaking the frozen remains of the soldiers as it went. "It looks like it's coming towards us," Jerry said.

"But that's preposterous! The barrier repels anything that's e-" Caspen was cut off when Regigigas passed right through the barrier as if it wasn't even there. "Vil," he finished, dumbfounded.

"…What? WHAT? WHAT?!" Luthiel screamed as nearly everyone in the room started panicking.

"What the…how did it do that?!" Pastizal demanded.

Landorus gasped. "The barrier keeps out anything that's evil…"

"But Regigigas isn't evil! He's being controlled!" Coballion realized.

"Damn! A loophole!" Gary swore.

"He's coming right towards us! I can already feel his footsteps shaking the ground!" Mary cried.

"Actually, that'sss me trembling in fear," Hissssa apologized.

"Oh," the Medicham said.

"But he is coming for us, and at that size, it won't take long for him to get here," Lavana said in alarm.

"And when he does…if he destroys Altru Tower…the shield's gone, and it's the end for all of us," Caspen said.

"Then we must act quickly," Pastizal said. "Send absolutely everything we have at that thing. Soldiers, mages, ninjas, whatever. Try to slow it down and break those control bands if at all possible. My other orders still stand: we need to get all the civilians to safety and find a way to get rid of the Bittercold. Luthiel, prepare the palace and our last line of defense should all else fail."

Everyone nodded. "Understood," Lavana said.

"I will get right on it," Ice said.

"You can counting on me!" Heath promised.

"I had hoped it would never come to this…" Luthiel lamented. "But it seems like we no longer have any other choice."

"Coballion, Landorus, I shall go with you and your teams to try to help stop Regigigas," Pastizal continued.

The legendaries bowed. "As you wish, Your Majesty," Coballion said.

"Father, no! I should go!" Caspen protested.

Pastizal shook his head. "No, my son. If anything were to happen to me, you are the next King of Berry. You must stay here and do an equally important task…find Princess Sara, and get the pieces of the Lemewrian Crest out of here. Your brother's death, her disappearance, the weakening of the shield, and the arrival of these new, stronger foes cannot be a coincidence. Take the Crest Pieces and get Team Nightshade and Maylene as far from here as you can. Even if Morkul were to get the Crystal, so long as he does not have the Crest or the blood of Lemewrian royalty, then his plans can never bear fruition."

"…I understand, Father. As you wish," Caspen said reluctantly.

"Team Nightshade, can I count on you to help my son and do what must be done?" Pastizal asked the Rescue Team.

"You didn't even need to ask, Your Majesty," Gary said.

"We won't let you down," Mary assured the Gallade.

"Yeah! Even though we inevitably let down jussst about everyone elssse who'sss ever trusssted in us, I'm sssure thisss time will be different!" Evan said without a hint of sarcasm. Maren hit him, hard. "Ow…hey, wait! Wasss Gary insssulting me earlier?!"

Pastizal's features softened slightly. "Fate brought you here for a reason. I pray that it was a good one." He glanced up to the eight-headed serpent. "Hissssa, will you come with us? Your power may be of use against Regigigas."

"What?! No! Ssshe can't go!" Evan protested.

"I'm sssorry, my love, but I have to go," Hissssa's poison head said, kissing Evan.

"The Berry Kingdom hasss done ssso much for usss. It isss a beautiful place, and I don't want to sssee it dessstroyed," the wind head said, kissing Evan.

"I have power now, great power. Power that might help protect thisss land, and the perssson I care about mossst of all…you…" the earth head said, kissing Evan.

"Don't worry," the lightning head said, kissing Evan. "I sssurvived the theater blowing up. I can sssurvive thisss, too."

The fire head nodded. "Yeah! I'm practically immortal now!" she said, kissing Evan.

"…All right. But pleassse…be sssafe," Evan said, tearing up.

"I'll do my bessst," the light head said, kissing Evan.

"I love you," the darkness head said, kissing Evan.

"I love you too!" Evan sobbed.

"Where is the Reveal Glass?" Pastizal demanded. A servant ran up to him and handed him a mirror with an ornate frame and what looked like clouds made of gray, red, blue, and green smoke around the borders. "Ah, thank you. Euterpe, if you could please sing the song of transformation?"

Euterpe, the Meloetta court musician, nodded. "As you wish, my King. Nando, would you give me musical accompaniment, please?"

The Clefable nodded and raised his harp. "I would be honored, milady."

Euterpe began to sing an absolutely beautiful melody, with Nando's harp giving her a tune to sing to. As the song filled the room, Pastizal raised the mirror and pointed it towards the kami trio. The reflective surface glowed, bathing the three forces of nature in its light. In a brilliant flash, each of the three lesser gods transformed.

Tornadus became a large, green, bipedal, long-necked, bird-like Pokémon. He now lacked any visible ears, and the horns on his forehead had become thinner and crest-like. Tornadus' hair was also now crest-like, and the direction of his hair whirl was reversed. The style of his hair was now more relaxed as well, proudly flowing down his long neck. Tornadus' mustache now took on a more beak-like appearance, puffing out on the edges like coarse plumage against his cheeks. His eyes remained yellow, but with larger irises which still lacked visible pupils. His chest was now fuller, but remained largely unchanged, while his navel was now bejeweled with a red gem. Tornadus' arms had now become large spanning, feathered wings; each possessing thumbs and five large, purple tipped primary feathers. He had two strong legs and sharp talons, each with three sharp purple claws and one dewclaw. Tornadus' tail remained largely unchanged, although it appeared slightly longer and less curved than before. On his lower back, he had a large trailing cloud-like puff.

Thundurus became a large, blue, sleek, bipedal snake or dragon-like Pokémon. The horn on his head was now thicker and extended out more, while his ears became more pointy and pinned back. Thundurus' hair remained the same; the mustache now took on a more raised snout and fanged-maw-like appearance, with two curving wisps flowing back and past his ears. His eyes remained yellow, but with larger irises which still lacked visible pupils. His chest remained broad and unchanged, while his navel was bejeweled with a blue gem. Thundurus' arms lost much of their muscular bulk, and were now slimmer. He had two paw-like hands, each covered in a trailing cloud-like fluff and with three claw-tipped fingers. Thundurus' purple lower half was much smaller then his upper body, and consisted of two hind-legs and his tail. His feet were elongated, with three downward curved toes and claws. Thundurus' tail also remained largely unchanged, although it was thicker at the base and tapered off and became thinner toward the tip.

Landorus became an orange, lean, feline-like quadruped Pokémon. The horns on his head were now thinner and arranged closer together in a downwards arch. While his hair remained the same; his mustache now took on a more fanged maw-like appearance, curving around his head to behind his ears, which had become smaller and rounder. His eyes remained yellow, but with larger irises which still lacked visible pupils. His chest remained broad and unchanged, while his navel was bejeweled with a beige gem. Landorus' back and lower legs were stripped with dark pink, and his biceps and triceps adorned with dark pink upside down, raindrop like designs. He had four trailing cloud covered paws, each with three sharp dark pink claws. His tail remained largely unchanged, although it was slightly smaller and shorter than before.

"Whoa, cool!" Evan gasped.

"What just happened?!" Jerry asked.

"The power of the Reveal Glass and Euterpe's song have allowed us to reach our true forms!" Thundurus said.

"These are called our Therian Formes!" Tornadus explained. "In these forms, we're stronger than ever, and able to use our full powers!"

"Which means we may just have a chance of stopping Regigigas before he brings ruin upon us all," Landorus said.

Pastizal jumped onto Landorus' back. "We must get going. Regigigas will get here shortly. Everyone, you know what to do. We must work quickly if we are to save the Berry Kingdom from destruction…but this land has stood strong for over nine hundred years. I do not intend to see it fall this day!" He kicked the Abundance Pokemon in the sides, and Landorus took off, followed by Tornadus, Thundurus, the Swords of Justice, and Hissssa, whose water head blew a kiss to Evan before departing, causing the Ekans to swoon.

"I must go to make the final preparations," Luthiel said, standing up. "I pray that they shall not be needed. Everyone, do as you were bade. This kingdom will not fall on my watch." She Teleported out of the room. Lavana rushed out to rally the troops, Heath left to get the civilians to safety, and Ice departed for the Academy to get the mages. The remaining courtiers and officials quickly left to take care of their own tasks, leaving only Team Nightshade, Maylene, Caspen, Nando, and Euterpe.

"We should get going as well," the Gallade said. "If Regigigas is on his way here, we need to get the Crest Pieces out of here as quickly as possible."

"And find Princess Sara, and stop whoever's taken her!" Maren said.

"…Yes, and that," Caspen said.

"Do you mind if we tag along?" Nando asked as he and Euterpe came over.

"You two don't want to go watch the big fight with Regigigas? I'd have figured it'd be…like, inspirational for you or something," Gary said.

Nando smirked. "Eh, I've done lots of songs about fights with giant monsters and great battles between opposing armies. Besides, something interesting always happens wherever you go, and I'm curious to see what you'll get yourselves into this time."

"…He's got us there," Mary admitted.

"And while I can fight, I don't really like to. I'm probably better off here, and Nando seems to think something interesting will happen if I hang with you long enough, so…" Euterpe shrugged.

"Given our track record with companions, you may regret that decision," Maren said.

The Meloetta shrugged. "I'll take that risk."

"I'm not certain this is a wise decision…but if you wish to join us, I will not forbid it. The more help, the merrier, I suppose," Caspen said.

"So, how do we do this? Should we split up to search the palace?" Jerry asked.

"Terrible idea! Never sssplit the party!" Evan hissed frantically. "That'sss a sssurefire recipe for usss to get picked off and killed one by one!"

"Evan, this isn't a horror movie," Mary said wearily.

"Sssomeone got hisss freaking head cut off, the Princesss isss misssing and might be the one resssponsssible, there's a giant stomping right towardsss usss, and a horrible army of evil Pokémon, a trio of demonsss who've got a hard-on hate for usss, an evil king, an evil iccce witch, the evil ice witch's evil daughter an evil lightning witch, and an Eldritch Abomination of iccce and hatred right outssside the bordersss with nothing between usss and them but a weakening forccce field. Sssoundsss like the makingsss of sssome kind of horror movie to me," Evan said flatly.

"…He has a point," Callista said reluctantly.

"I am inclined to agree. Splitting up would be a bad idea, there's safety in numbers," Caspen said. He sighed. "I used to think there was nowhere safer in the world than this palace, but if my brother's murderer has not yet been found…it would be a terrible idea for us to divide ourselves."

"What shall we do, then?" Maylene asked.

"I already have guards, servants, and ninjas scouring the palace for any sign of Sara or her abductor," Caspen said. Assuming she was abducted, he thought to himself. "I think a good first step for us would be to head to the vault where we're keeping the Lemewrian Crest pieces Team Nightshade retrieved. Sara knows where it is, and I think it's a safe bet that she—or whoever has her, if someone has her—will be heading there. My father is right, it can't be a coincidence that all of this is happening at once. I believe someone is trying to make a move for the Crest pieces, and possibly even the Luminous Crystal, while we are distracted fighting Regigigas and Morkul's army. I would not put it past Morkul to have planned this…though how he could get an agent inside our walls is still a mystery."

"Maybe he'sss sssecretly been controlling Princccesss Sara all along?" Evan suggested.

"Impossible! Someone would have noticed!" Maren argued.

"You didn't notice that your King's been possessed by Morkul for…who knows how long," Gary pointed out.

"Th-that's…that's not…" Maren stammered.

"We scanned her thoroughly for any signs of mind control. We didn't find anything…" Caspen said, brow furrowing. "…But that doesn't mean we didn't miss something. Morkul is a master of deceit and dark magic, after all…" He shook his head. "Enough conjecture. The quickest way to find out what's going on is to locate Sara, and going to the vault is the best first step I can think of."

Gary nodded. "Sounds good. Let's get going."

"Hey…you know what thisss meansss? We might actually get to do the job we were hired to do in the firssst placcce and ressscue Princesss Sara!" Evan said with a grin.

"You just might at that," Maylene said, chuckling.

"I only pray that we are not too late…" Caspen said.

Elsewhere in the palace…

Princess Sara stood before the massive metal door, a smile on her face, almost every inch of her white down stained in blood, the dismembered and mutilated corpses of the guards lying strewn about the room in pieces. She stared at the door, waiting patiently for her master to figure out a way to open it.

After a few minutes, a command came to her. She obediently removed a hand and eye from two of the corpses that were in better shape, and touched one to a seemingly innocuous wall panel and held the other up to a jewel set into the door. Several hundred glyphs appeared on the door's surface. She gracefully tapped the glyphs in an apparently random sequence using her severed hand, then cast it aside and, in a voice not her own, said, "Open."

The door opened. A smile once again on her face, the Togekiss entered the chamber. Limitless riches and powerful artifacts were strewn around the room in organized piles and shelves, the treasures of the Berry Kingdom. She paid attention to none of them, making a Combeeline straight for a Cubchoohole in one of the walls in which sat what seemed like a plain compass, with a fragment missing from its glass cover. The resulting hole was exactly identical to one of the pieces in her tiara.

She took off her tiara, removed the glass piece, and slid it into the hole. There was a flash of light, and the glass was now flawless, the Magnificent Compass, no, the Lemewrian Crest complete for the first time in thousands of years.

Princess Sara continued to smile.

And so did Morkul.

Phew. Sorry that took so long. One advantage to the government shutdown was that it gave me a loooot of time to write.

Anyway, I think I've probably gone completely off the deep end with that huge Poké Rangers scene. Hope I didn't Jump the Sharpedo. Then again, given that there were Sharpedo Rangers, there were a lot of those to jump over. I enjoyed it, in any event, and I hope you did too.

Tune in next time. Shit's just gotten real.