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oh, all the echoes in my mind cry

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The wind howls like a newly orphaned Cubone as it whips around and through the dim red glow illuminating the peak of Mt. Coronet. A lone woman stands against the darkness, her black coat and long hair whipping back and forth in the wind, but she pays that little heed. Two pokemon stand in front of her, a Lucario and a Garchomp. Both they and their trainer are on their last legs.

If this was a normal battle, Cynthia would have won long ago. But this isn't a normal battle, or anything approaching normal circumstances. Opposite her pokemon are the gods of time and space themselves, Dialga and Palkia.

She's on her last two pokemon. She hasn't been down to her last two pokemon in a very long time. Were this a league match, she'd be worried—and excited. But this isn't a league match.

This isn't a fight she can win, not alone. It's only a fight she can make last as long as possible. Keep Palkia occupied, and Cyrus can't use them to remake the world into a world without spirit, without emotion.

(Had she really been that bad a friend, to make them want to destroy everything? Maybe, if she'd been a better one, she would have figured something out before it happened.)

(But she wasn't.)

At least she isn't entirely alone. She has her pokemon, still, and at least she only has to fight one god at the moment, thanks to the guardians of the lakes—Mespirit and Azelf and Uxie. She'd never seen them (for longer than a few seconds, in the case of one) before today. She can't imagine why they had decided to help, except that this world is where they live, too.

She's glad they are, but even just Palkia alone is... too much, and everyone here knows it. That is why Team Galactic is content to watch her struggle, futilely, against their plan.

They don't know that there are reinforcements on the way. The kids from Twinleaf Town, Professor Rowan's assistants... even a couple of old friends from her journey, though how and why they'd gotten involved Cynthia doesn't know and hasn't had the time to ask.

The instant they realize that reinforcements are on the way, everything is going to get massively worse.

She narrows her eyes. They just have to hold out for a little bit longer, and then she just has to hope that strength in numbers will be enough.

"Rascal, Aura Sphere," she commands. "Aster, Dragon Rush."

Opposite her, a blank and thoroughly unreadable expression upon their gaunt face, Cyrus makes the smallest of head inclinations and Palkia roars. Whatever that attack is, it brings down her Lucario, leaving nothing between the end of the world but her and her Garchomp.

The part of her that was blindsided by everything they did remembers that they never were eating enough, even before.

The rest of her knows that if Aster goes down, it might as well be over if the others aren't here. At that point, she might as well tackle Cyrus herself for all the good it will do. The world will end, and it'll be because she failed.

"Cyrus," she tries, desperately. "You don't have to do this."

They narrow their eyes, such a small motion that if she wasn't already looking at them, she would have missed it. "You of all people know precisely why I do."

She resists the urge to look behind her. Instead, Cynthia steps forward, past her Garchomp. Aster growls a low warning, and she's right that this is a stupid decision, but... if it works...

It won't succeed, but if it can only buy a little more time for those kids to get here...

"I thought you were dead," she says. 

Cynthia takes another foolish step forward, another step towards Cyrus and Palkia and Dialga, struggling to no avail against the three lake spirits keeping them occupied. Unbeknownst to her, the already fraying strap of her bag quietly, oh so quietly, begins to rip.

"For all intents and purposes, the person you thought you knew is," Cyrus responds flatly.

She shakes her head. "I don't think so. If the Cyrus I knew was dead, then why go to such extreme lengths to get your pokemon back? Or did you think I'd miss that?" Cynthia raises a challenging eyebrow. "Dawn told me you had a Crobat. Either you aren't anywhere near as empty as you claim to be, or that's the same one you used to have. What reason would you have to retrieve your pokemon specifically, except for something you now consider as weak?"

"My old pokemon would obey me more readily than new ones," Cyrus says flatly. "It was a matter of practicality, nothing more. Are you done?"

"Never. I will never give in. Not to anyone who thinks this world isn't worth saving, and especially not to you." Cynthia takes a deep breath. Even the gods must have typings, though of course no information on said typings has been recorded anywhere. That being said, Palkia looked like Aster's attacks had been hurting them more than anything else, which means...

Dragon-type. God is a dragon-type pokemon.

That... honestly checks out.

(It also means that she's not in a good place at all with her final pokemon being a dragon-type as well, but... they've faced tougher odds.)

"Aster," she says, "Dragon Rush. It's not over—"

"Master Cyrus!" Someone calls from behind her. One of the Commanders. Mars, or maybe Jupiter. "We've got trouble."

Cyrus's gaze snaps to whoever it is. Cynthia too turns to look, now that she has a viable reason to—though there's still no sign of the kids, which is not good if the report Mars(?) had gotten is about them.

"What is it now?" They demand.

Mars winces. "You... remember those upstarts from the Windworks I told you about?"

Jupiter, beside her, scowls. "They're here? But... how?"

The other commander narrows her eyes. "Blondie didn't come alone, did she?"

"No, she didn't," Cyrus says flatly. They snap their fingers. "Palkia, put an end to this."

The pink and white dragon god raises their head to the storm-filled sky and roars, once more. 

"Aster, dodge it," Cynthia commands—but the attack isn't meant for her Garchomp. It's meant for the trio of pokemon circling Dialga, and it only takes one of them to falter for Dialga to break free.

For Dialga to break free of the lake guardians' control, that is—not whatever Cyrus has done to them.

Cyrus smiles. It isn't a happy smile, but a terribly cruel one. "Let's rid ourselves of this nuisance, shall we? Dialga, Palkia—do what you will with her."

Unconsciously gripping the strap of her bag, Cynthia calls out once more, "Aster, dodge it—"

But the attack, she realizes just before the orb of pink and blue connects with her own chest, wasn't meant for her pokemon. It was meant for her, and it hits its target.

The force of an attack by the gods of space and time sends her flying. Her Garchomp lets out a distressed noise and grabs desperately for her, managing to catch the strap of her bag with a claw. The strap tears, leaving the bag in Aster's claws.

Cynthia hits a stone pillar and—disappears.

Aster stares, the remnants of her trainer's bag held tightly in her claws. Cyrus stares, not expecting the disappearance. Mars and Jupiter stare, because out of all the things they had expected their boss to do, that wasn't one of them. From his position in the Veilstone HQ, viewing all this remotely, Saturn too stares. 

"She's..." Jupiter's eyes widen.

"Gone," Mars finishes. "W-what did they...?"

"I don't know, and so long as she doesn't come back to attempt anything else, I don't care," Cyrus says sharply—ironically, with the most emotion anyone has heard from them today. "Let us continue, before more irritatingly well-meaning trainers interrupt us."

Behind them, the god of time and the god of space exchange knowing looks. They did what they could. It's all up to the angry human now.

Still staring at the spot where her trainer had disappeared, Aster raises the bag to her chest. She bows her head, ties the frayed ends of the strap together, and slings it over her shoulder. Then, she turns, and roars in pain and in sorrow.

This particular Garchomp, much like her trainer, isn't angered lightly.

And yet she lunges for Cyrus with a desperate, heartbroken shriek.