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oh, all the echoes in my mind cry

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

One moment, she's flying backwards, stunned. There's the sound of tearing fabric and she's thrown past her Garchomp, into something hard and solid.

The next, she's...

Well, there's still something hard and solid at her back, but it definitely isn't any of the Spear Pillar's columns, nor the rocky walls of Mt. Coronet's interior or exterior. She's nowhere near Mt. Coronet, that's for sure.

And, far more concerningly—it's light outside. The only illumination just moments ago had been the dull, throbbing red of Cyrus's... dubiously magical chains, keeping literal gods under their thrall. Beyond that, it had been dark out. Very dark out. Close to midnight.

It's the middle of the morning, if she had to guess from the sun's position above her. And Mt. Coronet...

Cynthia stands, putting a hand to her head. It throbs painfully, but... there it is, on the horizon.

Miles away. Based on where it is compared to her... and based on where the sun is...

Actually, she has no idea where she is. This isn't helpful.

Her poketch map might be. It's still on her wrist, but the screen is cracked. She rubs her wrist painfully and takes a deep breath, turning it on. The map says... alright, south of Sandgem Town. Professor Rowan has been back for about a year now, he's someone she can trust, and if she's still alive, if the sun is still shining...

Cyrus must have failed, somehow.

But how? And what happened to her? She'd gone flying through the air... had she been knocked out? She must have been.

How did she end up miles away from Mt. Coronet, both in land distance and in altitude?

She exits the map app, and flicks through her apps to the time and date. It's... yes, it's the morning of the next day. Given that she's pretty sure it was at least close to midnight when she got up there, that's... not quite as bad as she'd feared.

Then she catches sight of the year. She blinks. Her mouth falls open. 

"What?" She says aloud, eyes widening.

Her poketch must have glitched. That's the only explanation here, otherwise it doesn't make any sense. How could she...

Dialga, glowing blue. Palkia, glowing pink. The attack from them both, aimed not at Aster but at her.

Could she... actually be a year in the past?

Arceus, Aster! She's... she wasn't in her pokeball. And still, Cynthia's hands go to her bag on instinct.

Her fingers brush against nothing but her clothes and the clear, crisp air of Sinnoh's winter. Her eyes go even wider. Her bag is gone.

Her bag, with all her pokemon, is—gone.

"Arceus," Cynthia whispers. 

Her pokemon are... gone. All gone.

If her poketch is telling the truth—and given that she just saw Dialga themself, that she just got attacked by the literal god of time, she'd say there's a fairly good chance that it is—she's exactly a year in the past.

She's exactly a year before Cyrus is going to end the world.

(A year ago, she'd had no idea that Cyrus was even still alive. Or... right now, she supposes. Right about now... she hadn't been doing anything particularly noteworthy. This must have been around the time Professor Rowan got back from his trip to Kanto.)

(She hasn't talked to him very much even since then, she's just been far too busy what with Team Galactic and everything else. But... he wouldn't know that, since apparently she is a year in the past.)

She doesn't have her team. She doesn't have any of her pokemon. She doesn't have her Garchomp.

She hasn't been separated from Aster for more than a few hours since she was a Gible, and since before she'd ever even thought of being a trainer herself. Before she'd had any idea what gyms or badges were, before she'd ever heard the title Champion or realized that might someday be her.

She has a little under a year. She can spare a few minutes.

Cynthia takes a seat again, against the rocky wall by the beach. She pulls up her legs against her chest, buries her head in her arms, and sobs.  

This is... a disaster. Honestly, just calling it a disaster doesn't really do the scale of all this justice, but that's the best word she can think of at the moment. It's a disaster, and somehow, she has a chance to fix it, but...

What if she loses again?

What if next time, her team is—

No. No, she is not going down that Buneary's hole. It will be fine. It will be fine, simply because it has to be, and because this time, she knows what's coming. This time, she can keep an eye on Team Galactic from the very beginning.

It will be fine.

(That's what she told herself atop Mt. Coronet, too. It wasn't fine then. At least now, she knows what she's getting into, but... will just knowing be enough? She doesn't have her pokemon. She does have her trainer card, so she could get into the PC system, but there are... a few issues with that, the biggest being that using a trainer card leaves a record.)

(She would have had some questions, if her trainer card was randomly used to withdraw pokemon on the other side of the region. So... not even her less frequent battlers like her Glaceon can help her now.)

(This... really might not be fine, and that is what scares Cynthia most of all.)

Chapter Text

The funny thing about crying for long enough is that, eventually, the human body runs out of tears to cry. Such it is with Cynthia soon enough, and so she wipes her eyes with the sleeve of her coat, takes a deep breath, and starts to empty her pockets.

She does wear this coat for a reason, and not just because it looks very good and she looks very good in it. It's got enough pockets to make any wearer of woman's jeans jealous, and she keeps essentials in it since she does always has it on. There's a few pokeballs (empty, of course.) A couple of potions, some spare pokedollars, her backup pair of glasses, the case for her contact lenses, and...

Oh. Her trainer card. That's... useful.

Except it isn't, because she's seen enough science fiction movies to know that in a situation like this one, there's most likely another version of Cynthia, her past self... Cynthia Prime? Sure, she'll go with that.

Cynthia Prime is having a completely normal day somewhere on the other side of Sinnoh, living in blissful, horrible unawareness of what's going to happen to her and to Sinnoh in the months to come. She has no idea Cyrus is alive, nor has she ever heard the name Team Galactic, and she certainly hasn't learned of the connection between the two.

More importantly, though... she can't change history. She can't risk causing a paradox. And showing up as the Cynthia would be putting herself on the fast track to both of those, because she certainly doesn't remember running into herself anywhere, nor hearing about some trainer stupid enough to claim that they were her.

She needs a disguise.

Fortunately, the vast majority of Sinnoh has absolutely no idea whatsoever that she used to wear glasses, nor that she still keeps a pair on hand for emergencies. Taking out her contacts is... annoying, without a mirror, but doable with some help from her poketch camera.

That done, she takes a look at herself through it.

She... still looks very much like that Cynthia. She takes out her hairpieces, putting them in the same pocket she pulls a scrunchie out of, and ties her hair up in a ponytail. 

She thinks for a moment, then shrugs off her coat and ties it around her waist, and takes a look at herself again in her poketch camera.

...this is absolutely not going to hold up to close inspection. But the glasses make a difference, provided she's talking to someone who doesn't remember she used to wear them. Wearing just the long-sleeved shirt she usually wears under her coat does, too, though it would be better if it wasn't in black like... most of her clothes, actually.

Still. It makes a difference.

The real test here is going to be talking to someone she actually knows, like Professor Rowan, whose lab is conveniently close, and if she's recalling the date right... yes, this is the day after that story about his return had aired on Jubilife TV. She'd been meaning to call him, at some point. To get back in touch, and to hear about if he'd enlisted another kid or two to fill out a pokedex for him yet.

Cynthia gets up, and takes a shaky breath. She lets it out.

This is fine.

(This very, very much isn't fine, but for the sake of her own sanity and doing her job right this time around, for the sake of stopping Cyrus—she'll pretend it is.)

She's just south of Sandgem Town, just off from the beach it was named for. So, if she just goes north for a bit...

She rounds the cliff-face, and finds herself staring right at a girl with dark hair, in a white hat and a scarf. A Turtwig, trotting happily at her heels, looks up at Cynthia and goes to hide slightly behind Dawn's legs.

Cynthia is, for a few moments, relieved, because she knows this kid. This is Dawn, one of the Professor's latest pokedex victims.

Then she's even more terrified, because while she might know Dawn, Dawn definitely doesn't know her.

"O-oh!" Dawn grins nervously. "Hi! I, um... was not expecting to run into anyone down here."

Cynthia laughs, equally nervous. "Yes... I wasn't either."

Dawn nods. She extends a hand. "Well, I'm Dawn. And this little cutie down here is Twigsby. Tell the nice lady hi, Twigsby!"

"Twi," Twigsby says, not budging from behind Dawn's leg. 

She sighs good-naturedly and says, "He's shy. Outside of battles, anyway. But inside battles... hey, you wouldn't happen to be a trainer, are you?"

Cynthia grimaces. "That's, uh..."

She's been without her pokemon for maybe an hour, tops, and it's like a part of her is missing. They're fine, of course—they're still with Cynthia Prime, all of them. And she misses them. So much.

"It's complicated," she settles for. 

Dawn frowns. "Ah. Sorry. I didn't mean to... sorry."

Does... Dawn think that that her pokemon died? That's... well, she isn't about to correct that assumption but also... no, absolutely not.

"It's alright." Cynthia forces a smile. She leans down, and gives Twigsby a wave—the first she'd seen of him, he'd already been a Grotle and was well on his way to becoming a Torterra. "Hello to you too, sir."

Twigsby peeks out from behind Dawn's leg, waves one of his paws slightly, and goes right back to the safe spot where he can't see Cynthia and, therefore, Cynthia can't see him. Ah, the antics of baby pokemon.

It never gets old.

"Aw, I think he actually likes you! That's a first." Dawn smiles absently to herself. "He's just kind of scared of my friend Barry, and he liked Mom well enough but then someone peed on the bathroom floor. I'm pretty sure it was Mom's Kangaskhan, actually, but you'd think I was telling her that her Kangaskhan killed a man."

Cynthia snorts. "Starter pokemon are supposed to be house-trained, by the time you get them."

Dawn nods. "That's... good to know. I'm gonna tell her that when I get home tonight. But in the meantime... listen, you know Professor Rowan? He gave my friend Barry and I our first pokemon! So I figured, I'd better go actually thank him. See if there's anything I can do to help him out, if that makes sense?"

Ah. So she doesn't have the pokedex, yet. Cynthia considers warning her against that.

Nah. It isn't as if she's required to fill it out completely—few trainers do, in Cynthia's experience. It's certainly useful for novice trainers who don't know much about type-matchups, yet.

That aside, Dawn clearly doesn't recognize her. Though, to be honest, she isn't sure that Dawn recognized her as the Champion even back when they first met in Eterna City... a few months from now. So... Dawn might not be the best measure of if her disguise works.

Professor Rowan, however, will be. They'd first met back when she did wear glasses full-time. And so, Cynthia adjusts her glasses with a smile and says, "Do you mind if I join you? The professor's an old friend of mine, I've just been... working up the urge to actually go talk to him.

"Mood." Dawn snorts. "And yeah, sure. Come on, Twigsby. Let's go talk to the scary old man who's kind of like your weird research grandpa."

Cynthia tries not to laugh at weird research grandpa. She is not remotely successful in that endeavor, but she does manage to choke out the words, "That's great."

Dawn chuckles to herself, and starts walking. "I've only known him for like... two days? But he gives off that vibe. Good to know I'm right about the prof. That reminds me, though... I didn't catch your name?"

She opens her mouth to say Cynthia, but manages to stop herself just in time. That right there, that would be a disaster and she really doesn't need any more of those right now. She manages to turn it into a cough and says the first name that comes to mind that isn't Cynthia nor anything remotely connected to it. "...Diana?"

Well. If Diantha ever catches wind of this, she's going to kill her. Or try to. Personally, Cynthia would like to see her try, but also, Cynthia has absolutely no intention of letting anyone who doesn't have to know about this in on this particular at least until the rather big problem of Cyrus and Team Galactic is solved, once and for all. And even after that... assuming that there is an after that, assuming that she can stop Cyrus when she failed once already... 

Who would even believe her?

"Diana?" Dawn nods. "Nice to meet you! And, um, if you do wind up getting back into pokemon training... Twigsby and I would love to battle you!"

Cynthia smiles. "I'll keep that in mind. You won't win, though."

The younger trainer—she must be what, thirteen? Fourteen at most? She's a baby trainer—only grins. "That's what they all say!"

Chapter Text

Given how many times Barry had quite literally run into her in the months to come—not to mention how many times he'd promptly challenged her to a battle, which she respectfully declined each time for the simple reason that he wouldn't have lasted five minutes—Cynthia should not be surprised that her first encounter with him here and now is of him sprinting headlong out of the professor's lab and directly into Dawn.

She laughs, even as she goes down. "Hi, Barry! Fancy getting your ass beat again?"

Barry snickers and offers her a hand up. She takes it. "You know you only won out of luck. And next time, I'll be happy to trounce you! ...but I've got places to go and pokemon to catch! See..." He finally notices Cynthia, and blinks. "Who's your friend? Is she a trainer?"

Dawn elbows him before Cynthia can respond, shaking her head quite vigorously.

Barry does not take the hint. But he does blurt, "Never mind, I'll beat you both when I see you next. I'm off!"

And with that, he sprints down the road, turning left and passing out of sight. Knowing him, Cynthia wouldn't be remotely surprised if he sprinted all the way to Jubilife (barring encounters with wild pokemon, of course.)

"Well, uh..." Dawn grins uncertainly. "That's... my friend Barry. He's got a Chimchar. He's, uh... yes, he is always like this."

"He seems... nice?" Cynthia tries.

She knows, of course, that Barry is a perfectly nice kid, if a bit impulsive. But as far as Dawn knows, she doesn't. And so long as Dawn doesn't ask the right questions, she'll have no reason to be suspicious of anything.

(Cynthia is far from the best when it comes to lying. Never has been, and likely never will be. At worst, though, the truth is a very unlikely guess even if things go south, so... it'll be fine. It will be fine.)

"He's a dumbass, and we're going to be rivals," Dawn says. "So, uh... you want to come in to talk to the professor with me, or...? He's... a little intimidating. I think it's the mustache."

Rivals, huh?

Cynthia hasn't heard that word in... a very long time. It calls to mind an older kid with a Sneasel and blue hair, someone who had challenged her and her Gible (then Gabite, and finally Garchomp) at every turn. They'd become friends of a sort, eventually.

At least, Cynthia had thought they were friends, at one point. Maybe they never were.

"Uh... hello? Diana?" Dawn waves a hand in front of her face. "Did you hear what I said?"

...right, she's going by Diana currently. It's not the best option she could have come up with, but there are approximately three people in Sinnoh besides her who know her middle name and they're all directly related to her, and she can quite easily avoid all three of them for a year. If she has to.

Which she kind of does.

"Sorry, I was... thinking," Cynthia says. "What was it?"

"You want to come in, or go talk to him after I'm done?"

Cynthia blinks. On the one hand, she probably shouldn't. But on the other hand, she would really like to see the look on Dawn's face when she finds out that she's the latest victim in a long line of pokedex carriers. And if she knows the professor at all...

If he doesn't recognize her, he'll play along because he thinks he's just not placing her somehow. If he does recognize her, he'll play along simply because she's introducing herself under a different name. Hopefully.

"Sure," Cynthia says.

The professor looks up when they walk in. "Oh, good morning, Dawn! And... err..."

Cynthia laughs. "Oh come on, Professor, you're not that old. I'm Diana, remember?"

His brow furrows. "Diana...?"

She nods. "You gave me a pokedex, remember?"

"A pokedex?" Dawn repeats. "What's that?"

"Ah. Yes," Rowan says after a long moment. "A pokedex is, well, a portable encyclopedia of sorts on all things pokemon. It'll update automatically as you encounter and capture new species of pokemon. Speaking of that, Dawn, if it wouldn't be too much trouble—"

"Professor, with all due respect, if you ask for Twigsby back I'm going to sprint out of here faster than Barry did," Dawn says.

The old professor looks at her. Then he laughs. "Dear girl, I would never. Your little Turtwig has bonded with you—it would be cruelty to separate you now, and I do not demand back gifts given freely. No, I would ask you to take this pokedex, and to fill it out as best you can." 

Rowan holds out the red machine to Dawn—it doesn't look like it's been upgraded much visually since Cynthia's own pokedex days, though she's certain it has been, by now. 

Dawn takes it without even a moment's hesitation. "Happy to help, Professor! So I just... catch pokemon, and this thing will automatically register information about them?"

"Indeed. I've given one to my assistant Lucas, and I... intended to entrust one to your friend Barry, as well, but..."

"He ran too fast?"

Rowan shakes his head, visibly bemused. "He sprinted in, shouted thanks for his pokemon, and left again before I could get even a single word in edgewise."

"Well... I'm already taking him a package from his mom... oh, fuck, I..." Dawn looks at the professor and amends, "Oh frickity frack, I forgot about that when I bumped into him earlier." She sighs. "Anyway! I can take him another pokedex too, if you want?"

"Sadly, that's quite impossible, though I nevertheless appreciate the offer. I'd need to be there physically in order to transfer ownership of it... it's to prevent theft, you see, they don't function unless operated by the individual they're keyed to," Rowan elaborates to an increasingly confused Dawn. "If you see him, I suppose... ask him to stop back in?"

"I can ask, I doubt he will unless he's on his way to visit his mom, though," Dawn admits. "But... uh, yeah! Thank you so much, Professor. Do I need to do anything special to make sure my pokedex recognizes me, now, or...?"

"No. It's all properly keyed in. You're good to go—good luck, Dawn, and have fun."

"Great! In that case..." Dawn beams. "I can't let Barry get too far ahead of me. I'll see you around!"

Picking her Turtwig up in her arms, she sprints headlong towards the door. She pushes in the crash bar with her shoulder and is gone. Cynthia has the sudden realization that without being right next to Barry, Dawn would come across as far more impulsive than she does.

The sound of an opening pokeball draws Cynthia's attention, and she looks back at the professor to see—oh dear. That's his old Staraptor perched quite menacingly on the desk behind him, preening herself and visibly not paying attention. But she doesn't have to be paying attention to be a very large, visibly intimidating pokemon.

"I keep careful records of every pokedex I give out," the professor says sharply. "I can assure you that a woman named Diana was never one of them. How do you know anything about the Pokedex Project?"

Huh. Maybe she hadn't given Rowan enough credit.

Cynthia walks over to his Staraptor and holds out her hand for the bird to sniff. She greets, "Hey there, Libra. How are you doing today?"

Libra the Staraptor sniffs her, then lets out a cry of recognition and settles down on the table, tucking her head into her wing for a nap.

Rowan's jaw drops. "Who are you, and how do you know my Staraptor's nickname?"

"Simple. My real name isn't Diana." Cynthia smiles. "Though the fact that you don't recognize me is... a relief, given the current circumstances, I really would rather you did. Tell me, Professor—how many blonde-haired little girls with a fondness for dark colors did you give out pokedexes to? I was wearing glasses back then, too. Though..." She reaches up to take them off, blinking fast as the world suddenly becomes much blurrier. "These days I typically wear contacts."

"You're..." The professor's brow furrows even more. "...Cynthia? What in distortion are you doing here? Why the secrecy? Why call yourself Diana of all things?"

"The one and only..." She grimaces. "Well, maybe not the one and only at the moment, but that's—we'll get to that later."

"What do you mean, we'll get to that—"

"Later. Please." Cynthia sucks in a breath, puts her glasses back on, and takes a seat on the table next to the snoozing Staraptor. "The short answer is that I'm undercover."

"...and why are you undercover? Forgive me for prying, but generally you're about as subtle as a Hammer Arm to the face."

Cynthia closes her eyes. She reaches out to brush Libra's feathers with her fingers. "Because I have no choice but to be, Professor. In one year's time—a bit less than that, actually—Team Galactic is going to try to destroy the world. I failed once. I cannot fail again."

"That sounds... concerning, I'll admit," Rowan says. "Team Galactic, you say? Can't say I've heard of them."

"You will. They are going to make Team Rocket and the Hoenn situation both look like playground bullies."

Rowan visibly grimaces. "That... is deeply concerning. And they become this much of a problem in just a year?"

"I'm sure they were around underground before that, but..." 

She's going to have to tell him, isn't she. She takes a deep breath and says, "You remember Cyrus."

"Yes? Of course?" Rowan blinks. "They were so helpful with cataloguing information about Rotom, before... well, that... before what happened to them. What do they have to do with anything?"

"Do I have to spell it out? It's... they're alive."

"That's great news!"

Cynthia sighs. "Not when they're the leader of Team Galactic and hate this world and everything it did to them so much that they've become determined to destroy it, it isn't."

"...oh. I thought they were dead?"

"Me too," Cynthia says sadly. "I tried talking to them and it didn't work. I tried nearly everything and it didn't work. I couldn't get through to them, no matter what, and at this point I'm just... I just want to make sure they don't destroy the world like they wanted to. They... tried to kill me, I think. That's how I ended up here."

Rowan squints at her. "Cynthia, dear girl, I really do hope I'm mishearing you, because it sounds like you should be a year in the future right now."

She buries her head in her arms, pulling her legs up to her chest. "You aren't. Something happened, and I woke up like an hour ago south of here. I don't have my pokemon, I don't have anything except a handful of pokedollars and my trainer card, and I can't even use that because for all I know, there's another version of me running around who would be instantly put on high alert if I used it for anything. I... hope there's another version of me running around."

"If I may ask—"

"Why?"

"Yes, if it's not too much."

"If there's another version of me running around, that means..." Cynthia looks up at him. Her eyes are shining. "That means that I didn't lose my pokemon forever. That means that, a year from now, I'll be able to get them back. I... miss them."

Rowan reaches out to rub a hand along his Staraptor's fringe and says, quietly, "I see. I... might know how we can check on that. Have you gotten a new phone since I left Sinnoh?"

"New phone, not exactly." Cynthia holds up her poketch. "Got this a couple of years ago. It's a new poketch... short for pokemon watch? Same number, though, haven't had a reason to change it."

"In that case..." Rowan walks over to a folding table covered in papers, and moves some off to the side to reveal an old landline phone. "Let's try calling you."

Cynthia only watches, wordlessly and nervously, as he dials the number, then hits the speakerphone button and lets the phone ring. For a few seconds, there's silence.

Then her poketch starts to buzz on her arm, and her face falls. PROFESSOR ROWAN, the caller ID reads, with two onscreen buttons to accept or reject the call.

"No," she whispers. "It... it can't be—"

As quickly as it had appeared, the call disappears from her poketch. It stops vibrating, and Rowan's phone stops ringing. He covers the receiver and whispers, "Did you—?"

Cynthia wordlessly shakes her head. She didn't pick up. And yet, that's unmistakably her own voice that comes out of Rowan's phone.

"Hello? Professor?"

Chapter Text

Oh, gods—that's her on the other end. That's her and yet it isn't her, because she's right here. It's her from a year ago, her from the here and now, the Cynthia who has no idea of the storm that's coming fast and furious for all of Sinnoh.

The voice that can't be hers and yet is continues, sounding somewhat tired. "I'd heard you were back in Sinnoh, Prof... is everything alright?"

No. Everything is not alright, actually—but it's far more alright than it was a minute ago. Now that Cynthia thinks about it, she can remember this call. She'd been going through the motions of waking up, getting ready for a long day of league challengers, when the professor called her out of the blue.

She'd been so confused as to why, until now. She'd completely forgotten about it, until now.

"Um... yes?" Rowan says, with a vaguely concerned look in Cynthia's direction. "What, I can't just call an old friend up to say hello? How have you been, dear girl?"

"Of course you can, I'm just..." The other Cynthia (Cynthia Prime? Cynthia Prime) sighs. "I'm kind of surprised, actually. But I'm doing alright, thank you. Still Champion, of course. The region hasn't had any major issues while you've been gone, thank Palkia—a few pokemon thieves here and there, but the funny thing about those is that they pose even less of a challenge than the trainers who think they'll be taking my title."

Rowan snorts. Cynthia, for her part, grins mareepishly and shrugs. Most of her challengers really don't pose much of a threat. She's had more than a few who talked a big game take one look at her Garchomp and forfeit on the spot.

"You sound almost bored," Rowan says lightly. "Should I try and point some stronger trainers in your direction? I've got a few promising ones I just gave pokedexes to and sent out into the wild, though even if they get involved in the gym challenge quickly it'll be a while before they make it to you."

"Oh, PLEASE do. The last challenger was all 'oh, this battle will be your last' and then turned really pale and forfeited as soon as I sent out Banshee. Perks of having a pokemon most people have never seen, I suppose. Still."

"Still," Rowan echoes. "I'll do my best."

"...are you SURE that you don't need anything? Because, short of filling out another pokedex for you—I don't like you THAT much—I'm not actually all that busy these days."

"Arceus, do I wish that were me," Rowan mutters. "No, I'm fine. Thank you, Cynthia. Lovely talking to you."

"Nice talking to you too—ASTER! I've got to go, Aster, NO —"

The call cuts off. Rowan looks at the phone for a long moment before putting it back in its place, looking at the Cynthia here and now, and asking, "Should... should I be worried?"

Cynthia shakes her head. All the explanation she's willing to give can be summed up as: "Aster chews."

Rowan grimaces sympathetically. "You know what, I don't know how you never once mentioned that while you were filling out the pokedex for me the first time. Have you been holding out on me?"

"Of course not. It just seemed so normal that..." Cynthia sighs. "Yes, she's chewed on anything she can get her claws on since I got her, and I think it might be a Gible thing but I couldn't tell you for sure, she's the only Gible I've ever had. Not a Gible anymore, though. Obviously. Usually I just get her stuff to chew, but I think then... I had to hang up on you because she'd decided to start chewing on my coat. I happen to like my coat."

"Ah," Rowan says. "So, you... you remember being on the other end of that call, hmm?"

"I do now," Cynthia replies, flicking her hair briefly out of her eyes only to let it fall back into its usual position. "I'd almost completely forgotten about it until I... um, past me? Present me? Picked up. So... I need to find something to do for the next year, at least until Team Galactic starts causing problems again. And..." She sighs. "I can't risk causing a paradox. For obvious reasons. I know I would have remembered if I'd run into myself, so..."

"I might have an idea." The professor looks suddenly thoughtful. "Assuming, of course, that you didn't mean what you said about filling out another pokedex. I do just so happen to have a spare right here, and we both know that you'll be detailed and thorough in your entries."

Cynthia stares at him. "Please tell me you're joking."

"I am very much not. Consider this: if you acted as a field assistant, traveling the region on my orders to fill out the pokedex, no one would bat an eye at you being in strange places at strange times, now, would they?"

She opens her mouth to argue, then remembers the time she'd run into that Lucas kid having his Kadabra levitate him to the top of a building so he'd have a better view of roosting Zubat in the route beyond, and shuts her mouth again.

"You have a point," Cynthia says slowly. "But I remember your field assistant. Boy named Lucas...?"

Rowan nods. "Yes—he's going to set out tomorrow morning, I believe. I've tried to encourage him to take on the gyms as well, though he does genuinely seem more interested in research than in battling currently. Ha! We'll see how long that lasts." He clears his throat. "That aside, what law is there that I can only have one field assistant? Besides, I've found myself in possession of an extra Piplup—"

"You've what. How."

"W-well, I wanted to set up a program for aspiring trainers like the ones in Kanto and Johto. The first Piplup ended up going to my assistant Lucas, while Dawn and Barry ended up with the Turtwig and Chimchar respectively due to..." He glances suddenly out the window. "Shenanigans that I will not elaborate on."

Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "You know I'm just going to ask them the next time I see them."

"Yes, but I can live in peace for a little longer." Rowan clears his throat deeper this time. "I realized this morning, however, that... so, when I was discussing things with the breeders responsible for getting these starters to me, I may have ended up talking with them about Piplup in length. I thought until now that Lucas had just been leaving his Piplup in the lab at night."

"Wait, are you saying..." Cynthia puts two and two together. "They... sent you two Piplup?"

Rowan nods wearily, and produces a single pokeball, holding it out to her. "I'd intended to keep this little guy on hand for at least a little longer, but if you're going to be filling out the pokedex for me? You'll need a pokemon, won't you?"

For a long moment, Cynthia just stares at the pokeball. "I'll need a lot more than just a pokemon. A new trainer card, for one thing—which is going to be distortion to figure out after all this is over—"

"Worry about that," Rowan says, "after all this is over."

He offers Cynthia the pokeball again.

Cynthia sighs, and takes it. "Fine. If nothing else, this will be a good opportunity to make sure the gym leaders are doing what they're supposed to—I've heard quite a few complaints about Volkner in particular lately."

Rowan raises an eyebrow. "I don't want to know, do I?"

"Probably not." She takes a deep breath, and—before she can change her mind about what a terrible idea this actually is—sends out the Piplup. In a flash of light, he's standing there before her. Tiny, and adorable, and cocking his head at her in a way that reminds her of Aster, back when her fearsome partner was nothing but a Gible with a penchant for chewing on anything and everything.

(Aster still chews, even now as a much bigger Garchomp, when she's left to her own devices. A somewhat desperate and much younger Cynthia had ordered some jewelry meant for humans stimming online while Aster was still a Gible, and that particular website hasn't let her—or, more importantly, Aster—down yet.)

This Piplup, however, is very much not Aster. It's... a water-type, she's pretty sure. If memory serves (that, and the occasional challenger to the Pokemon League who would turn up with an Empoleon) it'll gain steel typing later on.

She can work with this. The problem is that she knows herself a little too well. She knows she is going to get attached to this Piplup and whatever other pokemon she picks up between now and the Spear Pillar, and that could be bad.

Or... maybe not. It isn't as if she's limited to caring about the pokemon she uses in battle on a regular basis, absolutely not. Best case scenario, she can just make sure nobody ever finds out that the random trainer Diana is in fact the Sinnoh Champion Cynthia.

But honestly, she doesn't need to be thinking about the best case scenario right now. Right now, she needs to figure out what else Team Galactic's gotten up to that she didn't know about, and... stop it. 

Stop Cyrus, too, at the Spear Pillar.

She's not really looking forward to that. She blinks hard, leans down to the Piplup's level, and waves. "Hey, little guy. So... my name's actually Cynthia, but for reasons, I'm going to be calling myself Diana for a while."

The Piplup, understandably, looks very confused. "Pi?"

"It's... complicated," Cynthia says helplessly. She clears her throat and tries to look at least reasonably confident again. "The short version is, I'm going to save the world. Would you like to help?"

"Lup..." The Piplup still looks confused, but to his credit, he nods firmly. And then proceeds to headbutt her arm. That's... that's adorable, actually.

...well. Apparently she has a Piplup now. That's new. 

She takes a deep breath, recalls him to his pokeball for now, and while outwardly she returns her attention to the professor, inwardly she's thinking up nicknames. "Alright. Thanks. I think... it's what, not even noon? I can probably make some decent progress towards Jubilife before dark."

For a long moment, Professor Rowan just looks at her. Then he chuckles to himself, and nods. "You never change, do you, Cynthia?"

"Nope. Except for the better." She grins. "Really, thank you so much. If there's anything else I can help out with—"

"Just fill out that pokedex."

Cynthia fakes a groan. "Should've known. Barry was right to run when he had the chance." She grins. "Kidding. It'll be much easier the second time around."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Rowan says, bemused. "After all, you're just an ordinary trainer named Diana now. It might look suspicious if you're too good at this."

"...ah." She pauses. "Well, I still don't actually know where to find wild Gible, so there is that."

"You'll figure it out." He smiles. "I wish you the very best of luck, 'Diana.'"

 


 

PKMN Trainer “Diana”
Maelstrom

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Getting a new trainer card, with Professor Rowan's help, isn't too hard. It helps that Cynthia's been through the process before. At the same time, though, it very much does not help that Cynthia's been through the process before, because most trainers just getting trainer cards are very much not prepared.

But it works out well enough, even if she still can't help but feel that she's making a very big mistake somehow. She does pick up a very large, somewhat unsightly hat that's supposed to look like a Starly at the store in Jubilife, partially because it's something she'd normally never wear and partially because she probably could make it look a bit better with a bit of time and effort, and mostly because she thinks she's seen it somewhere before and can't for the life of her figure out where.

Either way, she now has a Starly hat, and a very small, very cheerful Piplup, and a couple hundred or so more pokemon from the Sinnoh region to catalog for Professor Rowan. Again. There's been a few added since the last time she did it, she's pretty sure, which is just going to make her job even more difficult here.

Oh, but wait. She also gets to earn eight gym badges, again, because it'll look weird if someone journeying around isn't trying seriously at getting badges. She did it once, she shouldn't have to do it again, she's the Champion for crying out loud!

And yet, currently, she isn't. The anonymity is nice, but at the same time, people are generally a lot less willing to get in your way if you have a seven foot tall dragon pokemon behind you.

She misses Aster. She really misses Aster. But there's really nothing she can do on that front.

"Pip? Lup?"

At least she's got one pokemon, so far, that she can rely on. She certainly hadn't expected to end up training a Piplup anytime soon, never mind having to start over completely. But so far, it's worked out.

Cynthia smiles and gives hers a scratch underneath his beak. "I'm feeling pretty good about today, Maelstrom. You?"

"Pip!" He agrees. 

Maelstrom looks at her briefly, then flutters his wings a little and hops directly into her lap. He's... a little too small and cute for his nickname, at the moment, but he'll grow into it. And in the meantime, he certainly isn't bothered by how pretty much every other trainer who sees him wants to pet him, too.

Cynthia pets his head absently. "I think, at this point, we'd probably be in good shape for the Oreburgh Gym. The leader specializes in rock-types, and, well... Bubble."

Maelstrom perks up and blows some into the air at the word. Most of his bubbles pop within a matter of seconds, but one doesn't. That lone bubble drifts onward and upward, catching the light of the afternoon sun as it does.

"Yes, just like that," Cynthia praises. "You'll do great, I think... but just to be safe... if I've learned anything through my time as a trainer, it's not to over-rely on any one pokemon. We're going to need to get you some friends. And I'm thinking... well, there's the old mine south of Oreburgh City. I'm sure there's some rock-types there—I'm thinking an Onix. I've never trained one, personally, and you've probably never even seen one, huh?"

"Pi!" Maelstrom shakes his head.

"Think... okay, so this big, massive rock snake," Cynthia supplies, stretching her arms out wide. "It evolves into Steelix which is similar but just—metal, now. Harder. You don't see a lot of those in the wild, and no one can figure out how to get them to evolve the way they do in the wild without artificial aids like metal coats, but... do you think an Onix might be a good idea?"

Maelstrom shrugs as best as a tiny Piplup can, which isn't very well but the sentiment gets across nonetheless.

"Or maybe a Geodude..." Cynthia taps a finger against her jaw thoughtfully. "Geodude might be better simply because you're going to evolve into a steel-type yourself, but I'll need to catch one of both anyway for Rowan, and you can't really deny the appeal of a giant, intimidating rock snake. People tend to take you a bit more seriously when you have strong pokemon—especially if they're strong- looking."

"Piplup," Maelstrom agrees, though it's pretty obvious that there's the metaphorical equivalent of elevator music playing behind his eyes. He perks up, looking somewhere off to the left. "Pi?"

Cynthia had taken a break from training to sit on a rock near the cave entrance leading to Oreburgh, but it looks like someone's coming up the path. Someone's running up the path, actually, sprinting headlong with his Chimchar clinging to his shoulder for dear life and his green scarf flapping wildly behind him.

That is definitely Barry. It doesn't look like he's seen her yet. Cynthia looks at Maelstrom and asks, "You feel like testing our skills against a child? He was looking fairly promising a year from now."

Maelstrom nods firmly, hopping down from her lap. So Cynthia stands up, cups her hands around her mouth, and hollers, "Barry! Over here!"

He skids to a stop so fast that his Chimchar nearly goes flying, whipping his head around to look for who yelled. She waves him over, then says, "Good to see you. You said when we met that you'd challenge me to a battle next time—is that offer still open?"

"Ha! You bet it is!" Barry grins. "And I'm gonna win. Two on two alright?"

"I've only got the one so far," Cynthia says, "but I don't mind if you use two. I'll only need Maelstrom."

"Maelstrom, huh?" He leans down to boop the Piplup's beak, and snickers. "Cute little shit. No hard feelings about how bad I'm gonna kick your ass, buddy."

Cynthia only smiles, and backs up a few paces to make room to battle. "Maelstrom, let's do this, shall we?"

Maelstrom chirps an agreement and stands strong in front of her. 

Barry laughs. "Rush, you're up first! Let's start off strong with a Scratch!"

Scratch? Cynthia whistles lowly. She hadn't been worried based on type-matchups alone, but if this Chimchar doesn't even know a fire-type move yet... well, maybe he does and he just doesn't use it, which is smart.

Either way, Rush leaps forward, scratching hard with sharpened claws. A critical hit.

"Right. Maelstrom, Bubble," Cynthia orders.

All the color drains from Barry's face. "Oh, fuck —"

One move isn't quite enough to knock Rush out, but it comes close. Barry does manage to get one more hit in before his lead pokemon faints, though. He sighs, shaking his head, and recalls the little pokemon, before raising the pokeball to whisper to it, "You did good, Rush. We'll win this because of you."

His next pokemon is a Starly, ironically enough. Barry sends it out with a cry of, "Zip, go! Quick Attack!"

Cynthia narrows her eyes. "Maelstrom, counter it with Bubble."

Zip the Starly is quite noticeably weaker than Rush the Chimchar, but he's got the bonus of being a normal-type pokemon using a normal-type move, and it does some serious damage to Maelstrom. One more solid hit like that, and it'll all be over.

She definitely needs another pokemon. An Onix, a Geodude— anything, so long as she has something to rely on besides just one pokemon. She knew this already, but...

Wow. She hasn't actually lost a battle in a very long time.

She'd almost forgotten what it felt like. Barry's not a bad trainer—though she has no intention of losing to him once she has more pokemon to work with. She opens her mouth, ready to concede—

"Alright, Zip, now use Growl!" Barry grins at Cynthia's dumbfounded look, completely misinterpreting it. "Nice hat, by the way."

"Thanks. I like it," she lies. Her hand goes to the hat in question. Maybe the Starly hat was a mistake. "Maelstrom, let's try a Tackle, shall we?"

Maelstrom looks pretty confused too, not to mention close to fainting—but he obeys, tackling the Starly headlong before disengaging, panting heavily. He looks to Cynthia as if to ask, did I do good?

"Good job," Cynthia praises. "You're doing amazing, sweetie."

"Growl again!" Barry grins. "You'll never be able to take us down at that rate!"

"You're right. I won't be able to... with physical moves."

Barry blinks. "Huh?"

"Growl reduces how hard the pokemon you're going against can hit," Cynthia clarifies. "But only how hard that opponent of yours can physically hit, like with a Tackle or a Scratch. It's a good plan. It would have worked. Maelstrom, honey? Use Bubble."

Maelstrom is all too happy to oblige, blowing tiny translucent blue bubbles of doom directly into the Starly's face. Zip squawks in alarm, tries to get up, and—fails. Eyes wide, Barry recalls his final pokemon.

"Wh-what happened?" Barry demands. "We were doing so well!"

"You would have won if you'd kept going with Quick Attack, or any other move that did damage," Cynthia says with a smile, rummaging inside her bag for a potion. She kneels beside Maelstrom and starts spraying, even as she continues, "I'm guessing you knew that and decided to show off instead with Growl. Thing is, Growl only reduces regular attack, not special attack. Bubble's a special move. Doesn't rely on the opponent being hit directly. So Growl didn't do anything at all against that."

Barry blinks. "Huh. I... did not know that."

Cynthia nods, and picks up Maelstrom to hold him in her arms for a while. "Most new trainers don't. You can check a lot of things like what type a move is, and whether it's physical or special, with your..." She trails off. "Right. You didn't get a pokedex."

"A what?"

Somehow, she doesn't think he'd like to hear about the consequences of his own actions, so she shakes her head. "Never mind. You can find a lot online, or—there' s a trainer's school in Jubilife, I'm sure they have books on the subject."

"Oh yeah. I kind of... ran right past there." Barry shrugs. "Didn't think I needed it. But you definitely don't need it, do you?"

"Well..." Cynthia shrugs. "Review is always good. And there were a few students willing to battle, so if nothing else it was good experience for Maelstrom."

"Huh. That's... you're not a new trainer, are you? Ms..." He pulls a face. "I know either you or Dawn told me your name and honestly, I've completely forgotten it."

Cynthia suppresses a laugh at that last bit. Some things never change. "Diana's the name you're looking for. And... no, not exactly." She takes a moment to mentally go over the story she and Professor Rowan had agreed on before continuing, "I used to be a trainer. Haven't been one for a while, and I don't... have any of my old pokemon anymore, so I'm having to start over from scratch. But honestly, I've missed this."

That isn't a lie—she really has missed the thrill of battles where you can't know for sure if you'll win until it's over, where the stakes are low and all you and your opponent are doing is just having a good time. Maybe she should thank Cyrus.

...hmm. No, she's not going that far.

"Huh. Well, sorry about your old pokemon," Barry says thoughtfully. "I think I'm gonna head back to Jubilife for now. Do some more training with Zip and Rush. I might not be able to beat you yet, but I will next time—and I'll beat Dawn and Lucas when I see them, too!"

Cynthia nods. "I think I'll be heading to Oreburgh soon. We're nowhere near ready for the gym yet, but I know there's a mine south of town full of rock-type pokemon."

Barry blinks. "What do rock-type pokemon have to do with anything??"

"Oreburgh Gym specializes in rock-types. It didn't always." She pauses, realizes that she probably shouldn't know that with such certainty, and adds, "At least, I'm pretty sure. I'll get back to you on that once I get there."

Fortunately for her, Barry is as oblivious as ever. He grins, and nods, and says, "Alright. Enjoy your victory while it lasts! See ya!"

He sprints off, back in the direction of Jubilife City. Cynthia watches the kid go, before looking down at Maelstrom and asking, "What do you think about trying to make Oreburgh today? We'll have to train a lot before the actual gym, but..."

"Pi?"

"I... well, alright." Cynthia takes a deep breath and starts walking in the opposite direction from the way Barry had gone. "Realistically, I don't have to have all eight badges by the time everything goes to distortion in a handbasket, but also, it's a good way to test our strength, and sometimes people do get incredibly weird about not having badges."

Honestly. People who aren't even trainers will get all oh, you shouldn't go any further without a badge on hapless breeders and coordinators who literally do not care about badges. And then there's the occasional complaint about the gyms themselves from challengers, most of them unfounded but Cynthia herself can never really tell. After all, the leaders are always on their best behavior when the Champion comes knocking.

She hums to herself thoughtfully, and muses aloud, "I suppose this is one way to make sure everything's going the way it should be. Did you know, Maelstrom, there was a gym leader in Johto for a while who literally would not give challengers badges even if they beat her? And she'd use her strongest team against any challenger, you're not supposed to do that, you're supposed to adapt your team to the number of badges a challenger has..."

Maelstrom blinks up at her like he never even imagined that pokemon gyms could be this convoluted. She sighs, hugs him, and sets him down at the entrance to the cave system known only as Oreburgh Gate.

"Right," she says. "Onwards, then."

"Pi!" And, concentrating hard, Maelstrom starts blowing bubbles again.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom

PKMN Trainer Barry
Rush - Zip

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Catching a Geodude isn't hard at all, once she makes Oreburgh. Cynthia and Maelstrom are confronted by one about two steps into the Oreburgh Mine, and after a long, arduous fight, Corundum the Geodude joins the team. But she'll need to train, just as much as Maelstrom needs to, and so for the next couple weeks, Cynthia and her pokemon spend most of their time in the mines.

There's two reasons for this. The first is the slightly more obvious reason of the two, and the reason why she figures the local miners think she keeps coming by: to train for the gym. The new leader, Roark, is around fairly often too—if Cynthia recalls correctly, he does double duty as both a gym leader and the foreman of the local mine, after taking over both from his father. She steers clear of him, for the most part, because it would be very, very bad if Roark even got an idea of who she really was.

It isn't hard to keep out of the miners' way, though—and as best Cynthia can tell, they're fairly used to trainers coming in and out so long as nobody causes any trouble. A couple of them challenge her to battles on the third day, on their break. Maelstrom is able to make short work of one's Geodude and Onix, but it takes both him and Corundum to take down the other worker's Machop.

More training it is, then.

She finally encounters a wild Onix on her fourth day training in the mine, and the pokedex at her side registers what data it can from a simple scan of a pokemon. Cynthia smiles, cracks her knuckles, and sends out Maelstrom to weaken it for capture.

The first Onix takes one hit from Maelstrom's Bubble before fleeing deeper into the cavern, never to be seen again. The second takes a good deal of struggle from both Maelstrom and Corundum before she can even think about throwing pokeballs.

One would think that ten pokeballs would be enough to catch one measly Onix. The problem is that any Onix is far from being measly. Ten pokeballs aren't enough for that one, or for the next one when she comes back with more pokeballs.

"Corundum," Cynthia says wearily, sitting on a rock, "I'm going to start this off by saying that I love all pokemon, I really do. But if I were to have a least favorite, it would be Onix after today."

Corundum the newly named Geodude looks vaguely concerned, but nods, satisfied and maybe even a little smug. It occurs to Cynthia quite suddenly that there could very easily be a rivalry of sorts between the Geodude and Onix of this cave. After all, this is a fairly common training ground for people preparing for the Oreburgh Gym, and while Cynthia is very much not up on the discourse of rock-type specialists, she's pretty sure that whether Onix or Geodude is better is a subject of much debate.

"Fill out the pokedex again, he said," Cynthia mutters under her breath. "For someone of YOUR skill, it won't be hard, he said. I thought catching an Onix would be easier than training for the gym, and yet I'm literally running out of pokedollars for balls and I have other things to catch, too!"

"Um, am I interrupting something?"

Cynthia's head snaps up to see the third kid out of the trio Rowan entrusted with starter pokemon and enlisted for research purposes. There's Lucas, his Piplup sitting perched on top of his hat, shivering a little despite the fact that the caves aren't even chilly.

"Sorry, I'll just..." Lucas grimaces, and turns to leave. "Sorry..."

"Hey, no, you're fine," Cynthia says, eyebrows raised and curiosity piqued. He was a bit shy when she first ran into him as herself, but certainly nothing on this level. "You're Lucas, right? Professor Rowan's assistant?"

Lucas turns back, slowly. He starts to nod, then remembers his Piplup, throws both hands up to steady the poor thing, and grins mareepishly. "Yeah, that's me. You're... um, Diana, right? The professor's new assistant?"

Cynthia nods. "It's—it's not like that, I promise. I'm just here to help."

"I believe you." Lucas takes a seat on a rock close to hers. His Piplup hops down into his lap and he strokes its belly absently. "Listen, I... I should tell you. I know your name isn't Diana."

She freezes. "And how would you know that?"

"I... didn't? Your reaction... actually gave nothing away, damn, that always works in the movies." Lucas sighs. "Prof doesn't know that I know, and I don't know what your real name is, but I know it's something starting with a C. Or maybe an S. He slipped up and started to say a different name before correcting himself, I pretended not to notice, I doubt he knows I know. He did tell me that you were an old friend of his and very good with pokemon, though."

"I'm... flattered?" She looks at Corundum, and tries to think with what little time she has. 

Lucas is... hmm. He's closer than she'd have thought, actually—though she shouldn't be that surprised, he's always been the nerd out of the group of Rowan's kids. And on the one hand, Cynthia vaguely remembers him being far less interested in badges and battling than the other two, so there's a chance he might genuinely not have all the information to put two and two together.

But... wait. Wait.

Had he been one of the trainers she'd entrusted with Togepi eggs? They... kind of blurred together after the first fifty. She knows she gave one to Dawn—and Dawn actually hatched it, or will hatch it, once she gets the egg. 

She might have given one to Lucas. Or will give one to Lucas.

(She is getting real sick of having to think about things she remembers doing as being in the future.)

The point is, he might recognize her there even if he doesn't know the first thing about the Pokemon League. And if he does... that could be really, really bad. She would have remembered something like that. The fact that she doesn't means that can't happen.

"How long have you been working with the professor?" Cynthia asks, partially because she's curious and partially because she'd like to know just how potentially bad an idea telling him the truth would be.

Lucas shrugs. "Officially, only for about a year. Unofficially, my dad's been working with him for a while longer, and I've been hanging around labs pretty much my entire life. Science is neat."

"Science is neat," Cynthia agrees. "So... you've been working with him since before he returned from Kanto?"

"Mhm. Him and Professor Oak both for a while. But the prof wanted to come back to Sinnoh and explore its mysteries, and as it turned out my grandpa lived in Sandgem already and didn't mind us moving in with him, sooo..."

He does seem like a good kid. Trustworthy. Cynthia's reasonably sure he had been one of the trainers mobilized to take on Team Galactic, before everything went wrong. But she'd thought Cyrus was trustworthy too, once.

Maybe they had been, before Team Galactic, and that honestly hurts more than anything they could actually do to her.

She makes a choice.

"Lucas," she says, seriously. "If I tell you this... it needs to not leave this room."

"We're... in a cave." Lucas pauses. "A mine, actually."

Cynthia sighs. "You get what I mean. I just wanted to say that. Rowan knows, and I know, obviously, but—that's it. You absolutely can't tell anyone else. Especially not Dawn or Barry."

"Now I'm a little concerned," Lucas says in a joking tone, but he's not smiling. "Yeah. Your secret's safe with me. Uh... whatever it is."

"I'm a time traveler."

Lucas blinks. "What."

"Not by choice, though," Cynthia adds helpfully.

"I think I'm more confused now. What??"

"I'm a time traveler, but none of my old pokemon came back with me. Which isn't entirely a bad thing—hey there, buddy." She reaches down in an attempt to pick up Corundum, remembers too late that she is literally a rock, and just awkwardly pats her on the head instead. "Means I get to train new ones in the meantime. But... listen. You'll run into someone who looks a lot like me at some point. Please, for the love of Arceus, don't act like you recognize her. Don't call her Diana."

"Time travel issues, I'm... guessing..." Lucas says slowly. "You know what, out of all the things I thought you might say, that was so far from being one of them."

Cynthia snorts. "What did you think I was going to say?"

"I dunno, actually... but definitely not that."

"I don't think I'd have taken me at face value either, in your defense."

"Oh, no, I believe you. This is too far out for someone to lie about." Lucas pauses. "And you really think that I'm going to recognize... uh, other you, on sight?"

"If you haven't by the time I think you'll have met... other me," Cynthia says, "I'll let you know. But yes—I think you will."

"That's... huh. And you're not using your real name because...?"

"Because how, precisely, would you react if you heard about someone who very clearly wasn't you claiming to be you from the future?" Cynthia shakes her head. "That aside- I don't remember ever running into myself, or hearing anything of the sort, so... if I did, that would be a paradox. I can't risk messing with time any further than it already has been."

Lucas blinks. "Oookay. Good point. Um, your secret's safe with me, but am I allowed to ask why you came back from the future?"

"It wasn't my idea!" And maybe she shouldn't tell this bright-eyed, idealistic kid that the world might end in a year if she screws up again. "Just... keep an eye out for a group called Team Galactic."

"Team Galactic? I've never heard of them."

"You wouldn't have, yet. Be careful when you do, they're bad news."

"...really, though, is any group called Team something or other not bad news? There was Team Rocket back in Kanto, those two in Hoenn—"

"Team Galactic is worse," Cynthia says with absolute certainty.

Lucas looks at her a little more closely, and his face visibly falls. "Good... to know. Um. You know what, I'm going to not think too hard about that right now. The prof gave you a pokedex too, right? Have you had any luck catching an Onix yet?"

Cynthia looks at him and just laughs.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum

Research Assistant Lucas
Kepler - Riemann

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Cynthia was under the impression that out of the three kids, Dawn was (or would be) the most accomplished trainer. But she isn't the first to take on the Oreburgh Gym and win—Barry is. Though, judging by the amount of times Cynthia ran into him sprinting between the pokemon center and the gym, he's also the first to have take on the Oreburgh Gym and lost. Rather badly, at that. On more than fifteen occasions.

There's something to be said for just throwing yourself at an obstacle every day until you finally overcome it, though. So Cynthia isn't surprised when, one day when she's making a run to the pokemon center herself, Barry comes sprinting in with a new badge in hand and a ridiculous grin on his face.

"Dawn went in on my way out," Barry tells her while he's actually seated for once, waiting for his team of (probably) those same two pokemon he'd battled her with to be healed so he can go, go, go again. He might be sitting down, but he's fidgeting constantly like it would physically kill him to sit still. Understandable, really.

"Oh?" Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "You think she'll win?"

"I think she's got a pretty good shot." Barry shrugs. "I think her Turtwig's got a type advantage, and she's got a fucking Onix —"

Cynthia manages the rather impressive feat of choking on nothing but thin air and her own spit. "She caught an Onix? How?"

"Uh, presumably with a pokeball? Is it really that hard?"

"It shouldn't be," Cynthia mutters. "I haven't been able to capture one. Neither has Lucas."

"Lucas, Lucas... oh!" Barry snaps his fingers. "Dawn's secret twin from Sandgem Town, right, I gotcha."

"Dawn's— what?"

"Well, not actually. Probably. I'm gonna lose my fucking mind if they actually do wind up being secret twins or at least siblings somehow. But like, look at the two of them. They've got literally the exact same fucking eyes, pretty similar hair colors—and grey blue isn't exactly common when it comes to hair colors."

Cynthia snorts. "So you think we're long-lost siblings because we're both blonde?"

Barry considers this for far longer than he should. Then he shakes his head. "Nah. You're too old."

Out of all the things she had expected him to say, that was absolutely not one of them, and so for the second time in the span of about three minutes, Cynthia chokes on her own spit. "Palkia, I'm not—I'm not that old, dear gods —you're what, fourteen?"

"Thirteen," Barry says impishly. "Dawn's fourteen. I think Lucas is around our age, I haven't asked."

Cynthia puts that on her mental list of things to ask if she actually remembers them while talking to the person in question (which is very unlikely, but an attempt can be made) and says, "I'm not old, you and your friends are just literal children. Babies, even."

"Hey! I am not! But fine, alright, if I'm a baby, then you've got to be... oh, around Professor Rowan's age, right?"

And that marks the third time Cynthia has choked on absolutely nothing in the span of four minutes. She snorts. "I feel like I should probably be insulted here, but that's also just... too funny of a mental image. I can't even imagine what he looked like without being an old fart."

Barry hums to himself. "Me neither. Hey, you're going for the gym challenge too, right?"

"Eventually," Cynthia says. "I wouldn't say my team is quite ready yet, though."

"Well, when is it gonna be ready?"

"When..."

She trails off, quite suddenly, because as it turns out she doesn't actually know the answer to that question. Roark's father was the gym leader back when she was on her journey originally, so she has no real way of knowing just how much Roark himself will put new trainers through the wringer. The first time around, she mostly just trained until it either grew to be so mind-numbingly exhausting that she had to challenge the gym for a change of pace if nothing else, or she pushed herself too hard entirely and a friend had to—

Hm. Best not to think about that too hard right now.

"I don't know," she admits. A call from the nurse tells her that her pokemon and Barry's both are healed, and she stands, offering the kid a hand. "You think Dawn is still battling the leader? I bet we can get in to watch."

"Oooh?" Barry takes the offered hand to pull himself to his feet. "We can do that? I mean, now that I've got the badge, I should probably get back on the road—"

"She beat you too, didn't she?" Cynthia says with a smile.

"...she won't beat me again. And neither will you, next time!"

Cynthia nods. "You keep telling yourself that. That being said, it'd be a good idea to watch the gym battles of people you've lost to—you'd get a better idea of her strategy that way, and what pokemon she has and will use against you."

Barry opens his mouth. He shuts it again. "You know what, I never thought about it like that. Sure, alright—but let's go! If we're not careful her battle will be over already!"

Dawn's gym battle is, fortunately, not over by the time they get to the gym. It hasn't even started yet, actually—Cynthia notes with some pride that Dawn is one of those rare trainers who takes on every trainer in a gym, not just the leader. It's good practice, generally—and a good way to gauge if you are in fact prepared for the gym.

She's just finishing up her last battle with a youngster bearing an Onix when Cynthia and Barry get in. Her Turtwig is out, and the battle is called in her favor after a final cry of "Twigsby! Absorb!"

The youngster recalls his Onix with an easygoing smile, tips his hat, and says, "Well, shucks—you're doing pretty well! I should warn you, though, Roark's the leader for a reason."

Dawn puts her hands on her hips and grins. "And I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think I could win. Come on back, Twigsby. You did a good."

Twigsby trots over to stand by her side, but catches sight of Barry and Cynthia and chirps a greeting. Dawn turns herself, and waves. "Oh, hey Diana, hey—Barry? Didn't you get your badge already?"

"Sure did," Barry says proudly. "We came for moral support."

Dawn blinks. "Really? That's... surprisingly thoughtful of you, Barry. Thanks."

"Oh, fuck off, for all you know it was her idea," Barry mutters. "Which it was, by the way."

"It was my idea to come watch to learn more about how to beat you," Cynthia says cheerfully. "I said nothing about moral support. Though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't, mostly, here for that."

"Wow, you're both terrible people, thanks," Dawn says, grinning. She recalls Twigsby to his ball, takes a deep breath, and returns her attention to the somewhat baffled-looking youngster she'd just beaten. "Which way is Roark, again?"

The youngster jabs a thumb over his shoulder and adds, as Cynthia passes him, "Just stay off to the side, out of the way of the battle."

"Will do," Barry tells him, and starts sprinting ahead to catch up with Dawn. They both arrive to where Roark is waiting at around the same time, much to the gym leader's amusement.

Roark tips his hard hat and says lightly, "Well, I know you aren't back to challenge me again, so I'm guessing you're my next challenger. That, or... oh?"

Cynthia reaches up to pull her Starly hat a bit further down and says, "Nope, not me yet. I'll be challenging you later, though."

"Ohh. And you are...?"

Uh oh. Cynthia smiles, and ignores the way her palms are sweating. "I'm Diana."

"And I'm Dawn," Dawn says firmly, "and I'm going to get your badge right here and now."

"Oh, a feisty one. Nice." Roark's gaze shifts to Dawn, and then back to Cynthia. "Sorry, Diana, you... reminded me of someone. Must've been my imagination. Anyway... if you're a friend of Barry's—"

"Rival," both Dawn and Barry say at exactly the same time. They turn to each other and high-five.

Roark snorts. "Rival, of course, my mistake. This your first gym too, Dawn?"

Dawn nods. "Yep."

"Cool. I'll be using three pokemon. You're allowed to use up to three as well, though your friend there managed to pull through with two. No manmade healing items are allowed from either side, berries are fine if your pokemon are already holding them. No substitutions—if you send a pokemon out, that pokemon is staying out until they faint or you recall them prematurely, and if you recall them prematurely you can't use them again." Roark pauses. "I think that's the whole spiel. Am I forgetting anything?"

Barry shrugs. "How would I know, I didn't pay attention."

"Never change, Barry." Dawn reaches out to pat him on the top of the head, and Barry swats her hand away. "Never change. Anyway, yep, think I've got it. I'm ready if you are, Roark."

"In that case..." Roark reaches for a pokeball on his belt, takes several steps back, and motions for Dawn to do the same. "Let the battle begin!" 

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Tossing a single pokeball out, Roark shouts, "Georno, you're up!"

Dawn grins, and throws her own pokeball onto the battlefield. "You're gonna like this, I think. Mesa, go!"

Both pokeballs release their occupants at the same time. The pokemon on Roark's side is a Geodude not unlike Corundum, a small thing that pounds the ground intensely upon coming out. But Georno the Geodude is forced to look up, everyone is, at the looming thing that Dawn sent out.

Mesa is, as it turns out, a massive Onix, towering over the battlefield and the trainers on either side. Cynthia, thinking of the spot in her second pokedex that should be filled by now and isn't, feels a brief stab of jealousy.

"Oh, good choice," Roark says appreciatively—a rock-type specialist through and through. "Tell you what. We're not required to give challengers the first move, but hey. I'm curious."

"Thanks!" Dawn beams. "Mesa, Rock Smash!"

Roark's eyes widen. "Georno, Stealth Rock! ...coming for me right out of the gate, I see! And with a move I helped you learn, no less!"

Dawn snorts. "You're telling me you don't give copies of that TM out to every trainer you encounter outside the gym?"

Roark opens his mouth. He shuts it. Barry snickers.

(Cynthia actually didn't get a copy. But also, she'd kind of avoided Roark until now—and for good reason, considering he'd definitely been starting to recognize her earlier. Given that Rock Smash is a fighting-type move, and that could be very, very useful... maybe she'll just ask to borrow Dawn or Barry's copy until she can get her own, just long enough to teach that to Corundum.)

Rock Smash is, as it turns out, super effective. But that's the only strength bonus it gets, so while Georno is looking rather smashed and not in a good way, he's very much still standing.

"Georno, Rock Throw," Roark says firmly.

The Onix just dodges it entirely, waiting for her trainer's orders. Dawn smirks. "Rock Smash one more time, Mesa, if you will?"

The second Rock Smash does take out Georno. Roark chuckles to himself as he recalls his Geodude. "You're training that Onix well, I see. But two can play at that game. Bolder, go!"

Bolder—or maybe Boulder, it's impossible to tell for sure and Cynthia suspects that's entirely intentional on Roark's part—is yet another massive Onix. He roars as his trainer shouts, "Bolder, use Screech!"

"Mesa, Rock Smash!"

The attack is clearly devastating, and yet Bolder shrugs it off almost like it's nothing. Roark orders him to use Screech again once, twice more—and then, when it looks like Bolder is about to falter, when Mesa is raring up for one final Rock Smash, Roark pounds his fist into his hand and yells, "Finish it! Rock Smash!"

"You're faster, Mesa," Dawn urges. "Take that Onix down first!"

Mesa is not, in fact, faster. She goes down in a single hit, now that her defense has been so thoroughly lowered. Dawn narrows her eyes, considers her options, and sends out—

A... Luxio?

For one thing, Cynthia's impressed if she has one already, Shinx evolve into Luxio fairly early but not that early. But for another, Luxio is an electric-type pokemon. Onix is a pokemon with two types: rock, which is undoubtedly why Roark picked his up, and ground, electric's only weakness.

Roark... stares at Dawn, for a long moment. So does his Onix, until at last the gym leader says, "If you want to just... switch out now, use a different pokemon, I won't hold it against you. You can still use two more other pokemon."

"With all due respect, Roark, I've only got three pokemon on me, and this lovely lady is one of them. I know what I'm doing." Dawn grins, even as her poor Luxio takes a solid hit from the rocks Roark's Geodude had lovingly scattered across the field earlier. "Tuxedo, use Bite."

Biting a massive rock snake shouldn't do all that much to it. But with how much Mesa had already taken out of Roark's Onix earlier, one chomp from a hissing Luxio is enough to bring him down. Tuxedo prances back towards her trainer, visibly preening, and arches her back to accept her trainer's pets before returning to the battlefield.

Dawn's on her second pokemon. Roark is on his third.

And Roark, impossibly, smiles.

"What was his last pokemon?" Cynthia asks Barry under her breath.

She genuinely doesn't know the answer to this one—Roark had become a gym leader well after her time journeying, and it's up to the gym leader's judgment what teams they'll put together for various badge counts, unless a bunch of complaints start coming in about them. Roark's always been pretty good about keeping his teams appropriate for the trainer's skill level, though, and so Cynthia's never looked into it.

"Something I'd never seen before," Barry whispers back, which doesn't narrow it down very much.

"Tuff, let's end this now, shall we?" Roark tosses his pokeball out, revealing—oh, a Cranidos. One of those pokemon revived from fossils fairly recently, well after Cynthia's time filling out the pokedex originally. This particular one scratches at the rocky ground of the gym, looking very much to be in his element.

Dawn glances down at the pokedex at her hip, unhooking it briefly to look at the screen. Her eyes widen. "Holy—wow, that's a cool pokemon."

"Thanks! Tuff, Headbutt."

"Not so fast!" Dawn throws a hand out for dramatic effect and hollers, "Tuxedo, this is going to sound really weird but bear with me—use Spark!"

Spark? On a Cranidos?

That's... hmm. Well, everyone screws up when they're learning—gods know Cynthia certainly did—but that's... unfortunate. Cynthia would have thought that Dawn would have figured out not to use electric-type moves against ground-type pokemon through her own time spent training in the Oreburgh Mine, if nothing else. She winces in anticipation—

But the move is decently effective. Not super effective, not to the point where Roark's pokemon is immediately downed or even takes a significantly bad hit—but it does actual damage.

It wouldn't do shit to a ground-type. So this... must not be a ground-type after all.

Hm. Cynthia makes a mental note to look into these fossil pokemon more, when she gets the chance. She's never had a challenger show up with one of them yet, but they always could, and a foolish mistake like that could quite easily cost her the championship.

"Oh, good eye," Roark says, audibly impressed, after his Cranidos has tackled Dawn's Luxio head-on and sent the poor thing flying halfway across the room. "Most new trainers do think that Tuff is ground-type as well, or just think that rock-types have the same resistances as ground-types. It might be enough... but it might not. Tuff, Screech."

That lowers Tuxedo's defense, and Dawn knows it. She grits her teeth and orders, "Tuxedo, Spark, one more time."

The Luxio's attack does a decent amount of damage—but not quite enough. With another, final headbutt from Roark's Cranidos, Tuxedo the Luxio goes down, and Dawn recalls her, before taking a deep breath and retrieving one final pokeball.

If she only has three pokemon total at the moment, Cynthia knows exactly who and what this is.

"I've saved the best for last," Dawn says lightly. "Go, Twigsby! Razor Leaf!"

Roark steps forward, raises his arm, opens his mouth... and then he closes it again, and just watches the attack hit. Dawn's attacks now are indeed super effective, and while Cynthia would give it a good chance of taking out Roark's Cranidos in one hit even if Tuxedo hadn't already weakened him, with Tuxedo's effort already in place, the poor Cranidos doesn't stand a chance.

And with that, Dawn's won her very first badge. She picks up her Turtwig and spins him in the air in victory, visibly grinning all the while—and then, when she's finished celebrating, she takes the badge and sprints over to Barry and Cynthia almost as quickly as Barry would have.

"I fucking did it," Dawn announces proudly.

"I know, we saw," Barry replies. "Now how about a—"

"Pokemon center first. Then? Maybe. Or maybe we'll watch Diana's gym battle first. That'll be fun."

Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "Moral support, or do you just want to defeat me?"

"Both? Both." Dawn shrugs. "I haven't fought you yet. I will once I know I can win."

Oh, Cynthia likes this kid. She really does hope she makes it to the Pokemon League.

...assuming, of course, that there is a Pokemon League to make it to by the time this is all over and that the world doesn't end in eleven months. But assuming the best, and assuming Dawn keeps up her pace—and, at least to the point where Cynthia last talked to her before Mt. Coronet, she did—there will be, and Cynthia will have her first serious challenger in quite a while.

(Granted, Cynthia is using a slightly different definition of serious challenger than most people likely would. For her, a serious challenger is someone who genuinely stands a chance of beating her and taking her place as the Sinnoh Champion, bumping her down to the Elite Four. For the rest of the world, a serious challenger is someone who considers themself serious about beating her.)

(There are a lot more challengers that fit the world's definition than her own.)

"I'm sure you can," Cynthia says cheerfully. "But we'll see if you will. In the meantime... Roark?"

"You don't have any badges yet?" Roark questions, and gets a nod. "In that case, give me ten minutes to run to the center and grab a drink. I'll be happy to take you on as well."

Frankly, she does not feel ready for this gym. But she's never in her life felt ready for a gym, even when she'd trained and trained so much that the gym was a cakewalk compared to what she was expecting, so... she should be fine.

And if she's not... there's no shame at all in coming back to try again.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Once Roark's out the door, Cynthia wastes no time in going over to the kids, pokeball in hand, and asking, "For no reason in particular, can I borrow one of your Rock Smash TMs for about... a minute?"

Dawn blinks. "Uh, sure? Did you not get one from Roark?"

Cynthia shakes her head. "Haven't actually talked to him at all until now."

That's true. She's just conveniently leaving out the fact that she did that entirely on purpose. Which isn't really a lie but Barry is still looking at her funny, so clearly her usual inability to lie extends to half-truths too. Great. Amazing, even. Just what she needed today.

"Diana? Are you okay?" Barry asks.

"Just tired. Been doing a lot of training lately."

"You... got to Oreburgh before me, though. Didn't you?"

"Yes...?"

Slowly, Barry continues, "And you've been training for the gym this... entire time?"

"Well, maybe not entirely for the gym, I had some work to do for the professor, but—"

"Nerd work," Dawn says from where she's digging through her bag for one singular TM. There's about three other TMs laid out on the floor, a wide assortment of potions and antidotes, quite a few pokeballs, and a space change of clothes—and she still hasn't found the one for Rock Smash.

Disorganized, huh?

Cynthia desperately wishes she couldn't relate.

"Nerd work," Barry echoes.

"Dawn, he entrusted you with the exact same thing—" Cynthia pauses as Barry just straight-up starts cackling, and can't quite suppress a smile. "But also, you're right. Nerd work."

Barry points. "Neeerds. Ha, I got out of there before he could make me do anything!"

"Sounds like a you problem," Dawn responds breezily. "Dammit, where the fuck is my Rock Smash TM? Diana, I'm so sorry—"

"Anyway, Diana, you've been training... that whole time? It's been like a month! How the fuck are you not ready for the gym? Even if you've only been training like half of that, that's still two fucking weeks!"

"Well, yes, but..." Cynthia trails off as Barry shakes his head firmly.

"Nope, nope, this is an intervention. You're gonna take on the gym, and you're gonna win, and then we're gonna drag Lucas in here and he's gonna win too, so we can all actually keep moving and I don't have to deal with people who think I'm weird for naming all my pokemon after speedy things." 

Cynthia snorts. "Sounds reasonable enough. I'll do my best. Though, Dawn—"

"I am so sorry, it must have fallen out of my bag at some point," Dawn says miserably.

Barry sighs. "Do I have to do everything around here?" He sticks a hand in his own bag and comes up with the Rock Smash TM immediately. "Here you go."

"Thank you," Cynthia says, pulling out a pokeball. "This won't take long. Come on out, Corundum."

The Geodude does so, and Cynthia kneels with the TM. It's been a long time since she's had to use one of these, but fortunately, they were made to be intuitive enough that the average ten-year-old could use them. All you have to do is touch it to the pokemon, and they'll learn the move.

...Cynthia has never been able to figure out who decided to make them look like CDs. Or why.

Odd design choices aside, the move should be learned now. Cynthia hands the TM back to its owner with a word of thanks, then stands up and says, "Alright, Corundum, let's test this out. Try using Rock Smash on that boulder there."

Corundum nods—or at least, Cynthia's pretty sure that's a nod, it's a bit hard to tell when her head is most of her body. She turns, uses her fists to propel herself into the air, and comes down on the rock with a loud CLANG!

The rock... doesn't break. Upon closer inspection that's because it's apparently made of metal and only made to look like rock, probably for situations exactly like this one, but Corundum's pride looks a little hurt. Cynthia laughs to herself and says, "Sorry, in my defense, I probably should have looked a little closer. Still—that move's going to be just what we need today."

"Geo-geo," Corundum agrees proudly.

"Don't you have a Piplup?" Dawn asks. "Or am I getting you mixed up with Lucas—"

"They both have Piplups," Barry cuts in. "You're not starting off with yours?"

Cynthia shakes her head. "Maelstrom is the backup plan. But I'm sure Corundum can take out at least his Geodude first."

"You've... only got two pokemon?"

"You've only got two pokemon," Dawn points out. "Fucking hypocrite."

"Fuck off, I won eventually, but also it took me... a lot of tries first."

"Because your two pokemon are both weak to rock-types and you refused to catch something to cover your weaknesses!"

"Says the bitch who sent out a Luxio against an Onix!"

"Well, it worked, didn't it? My first try, not my tenth."

"Sixteenth, actually," Barry says proudly.

Dawn blinks, visibly confused. "Why the fuck are you proud of that—"

"Well, it does mean he didn't give up?" Cynthia points out. "I think a lot of trainers would have around the fifth failed attempt."

"Yeah, see?" Barry grins.

"...but I think most trainers would also have taken the time to actually train between their attempts instead of sprinting to the pokemon center and challenging the gym leader again as soon as he was ready for you."

Barry sighs. "No one appreciates me. I'm gonna text Lucas."

Dawn snickers. "You think he won't think you're a massive dumbass?"

"I think he'll at least not say it to my face," Barry declares, pulling out his poketch and opening the phone app. He pauses, suddenly, to look at Cynthia. "Hey, Diana, what's your—"

"I don't have a poketch," Cynthia says.

Barry stares. So does Dawn.

"Uh... you're wearing one," Dawn points out.

Cynthia looks down at her wrist. She is indeed currently wearing her poketch, like she always does—and she had completely forgotten that, due to her tying her coat around her waist instead of actually wearing it the way she normally does, her poketch isn't hidden by her sleeve the way it normally is.

Ah.

Oops.

"Sorry," Cynthia says. "What I meant was that the phone app doesn't work for calls or texts. Fortunately payphones still exist, I've gotten by."

Technically, it probably would work for calls or texts. The issue is that, since it's technically the exact same phone as the one that the other Cynthia has, she's pretty sure that any calls and texts she made would sync over to Cynthia Prime's phone. Contacts... might not, but better safe than sorry.

There's also the small issue of the fact that if either of these kids ever called her number, Cynthia Prime could pick up and that would be, for lack of a better description, a complete disaster.

Cynthia hates time travel, actually.

"Well, if it doesn't work for that, then what's the fucking point?" Barry cries, tapping away at his wrist.

"Uh... lots of things? The internet? That neat pedometer app? The one that keeps track of how your pokemon are doing at a glance?" Dawn looks at Barry like he's stupid. "...please tell me you didn't text Lucas that."

"He agrees with you," Barry says miserably. "My friends have betrayed me. All of my friends have betrayed me."

"Well maybe we wouldn't have if you didn't have fucking stupid opinions, Barry."

"Oh boy," Roark says. "What in distortion did I walk in on?"

"The kids are fighting," Cynthia responds. She kneels down to pat Corundum and continues, looking up at Roark, "Don't suppose you're ready for a new challenger yet?" 

"I sure am." Roark takes up position at the far end of the battlefield once more. "And as much as we appreciate rock-types in this house, I really hope that isn't your only pokemon... what did you say your name was again?"

"Diana." 

She takes a deep breath, and lets it out. Battling, she can do. It might be with unfamiliar pokemon, and in an unfamiliar place, but she's won eight badges before. She can do it again, even if some of the leaders are different now, like Roark.

"And no, she isn't," Cynthia adds. "I've got another one."

Roark's gaze flicks to Barry, then back to her. "If you're a friend of his, I guess there's no chance of convincing you to come back with a third, huh. I'll be using all three of mine regardless... do you need the spiel I just gave Dawn?"

Cynthia starts to shake her head, then realizes her mistake and turns the motion into a nod. "I think I remember most of it, but... it probably would be better to hear again."

Roark nods. "Gotcha. In that case... just to make sure, this is your first ever gym battle?"

"Got my trainer card about a month ago," Cynthia says in response.

"Okay, fair, but I've had challengers who got their trainer cards literally the day they challenged me. They don't usually do all that well, though, but still." Roark takes a deep breath. "Sorry. You just seem... oddly confident."

"I'm not," Cynthia says, which is true. "I'm just very good at faking it."

"Mood," Dawn says from somewhere behind her, and not quite quietly enough for Cynthia to not hear it.

Roark nods. "Anyway—I'll use three pokemon, you can use up to three. No substitutions, if you take a pokemon out of the fight for any reason you can't use 'em again. No manmade healing items, berries are fine though... I think that's everything. You beat me, you get the Coal Badge, you're one step closer to the Pokemon League."

"What's that?" Oh, that's Lucas. Cynthia turns back to see him having joined the others, and currently on the receiving end of withering glares from both of the others. "Hey, it's—I'm new to this! I don't even know if I-I want to take on the gym yet—"

"You're fine, Lucas," Cynthia says, then turns back to Roark. "What's the Pokemon League?"

Roark sighs. "I really got spoiled by those other two actually knowing what was going on ahead of time. There's a total of eight gyms like this one in the region. You can tackle them in any order, though I do get a lot of first-timers here thanks to Jubilife being not too too far that way." He gestures vaguely in a direction Cynthia assumes is roughly west. "If you defeat the leaders of all of them and get their badges, you can take on the Elite Four and the current Champion, and if you somehow manage to beat them all, congrats, you're the new Champion."

"I'm gonna be the next Champion," both Dawn and Barry say at the same time.

"No, I will," Barry says firmly. "Elite Four, Champion—pssh, he can't be that hard to beat."

"She is," Roark says immediately. "You have to take on the Elite Four and the Champion back to back. Can't use any healing items like potions, you have to leave your bag in a locker up front too. It would be bad enough, but—"

"She?" Lucas asks.

"Damn, diversity win," Dawn says cheerfully.

Roark nods. "Yup. It would be bad enough taking on any five strong trainers back to back, but our current champion, whew. She's, pardon my Kalosian, fucking terrifying. None of you would stand a chance against her right now."

"Well, I will," Barry declares. "I'm gonna be the strongest."

"No, I will," Dawn counters, crossing her arms. "Or if you somehow manage to beat her before I do, I'll do like that dude in Kanto did and steal your title less than an hour after you got it."

"And then fuck off to a mountain and never appear in public again? Sure, okay, I think I'd get the championship back by default then—"

"This is all very interesting," Cynthia says, trying very hard to keep a straight face, "but can we save this for after my gym battle?"

"Right, sorry, got a bit carried away." Roark chuckles to himself. "Let's get to it. Georno, go!"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"Corundum? Let's give it our best," Cynthia orders, and her own Geodude takes up position opposite Roark's. "Rock Smash!"

"Not a bad strategy," Roark says. "But you'll have to do better than that. Georno, Stealth Rock."

Shaking off Corundum's attack without too much trouble, Roark's Geodude once again scatters sharp, pointed stones all across the battlefield—a labor of love for the Geodude in question, and something that's going to be quite painful and annoying for her and her pokemon. At least it won't be too effective against Maelstrom, but it's still irritating.

That being said: it's not something that will directly damage Corundum, only whatever pokemon switches in after her. Which means, essentially, that Cynthia gets a free hit. "Rock Smash, again!"

"Rock Throw," Roark orders in turn—his attack does barely nothing, while the second Rock Smash sends his Geodude reeling backwards. He narrows his eyes. "Come on. One last time—"

"Rock Smash," Cynthia commands, and that's one pokemon down. Two to go.

She's half-expecting him to use a move that would be devastating against her poor Geodude, like Earthquake or Dig or even Magnitude. Yet he doesn't. He simply sends out his Onix, and commands the massive rock snake (Cynthia is not jealous, no, never) to use Screech.

...ah. So that's his strategy. Lower Corundum's defense as much as possible, and hope that her second pokemon isn't super effective to his Cranidos. Unfortunately for him, Maelstrom is a water-type.

Still, she plays along. Corundum brings down his Onix, too, after a few more Screeches. And then his Cranidos comes out and takes Corundum out in one well-placed, not even that effective Headbutt.

That's... that's fine. She had a plan for something like this. That plan can be summed up as Maelstrom, but even as she moves to recall Corundum, guilt twists itself into her gut. Maybe if she'd been a better trainer, maybe if she hadn't let herself be goaded into taking on the gym too early—

Okay. Nope, nope, nope. Not going down that particular traintrack of thought right now, because for one thing, she's the literal Champion of this region even if she isn't acting in that role right now, and that has to count for something. For another, Corundum did her best, and she took down two of Roark's pokemon before his third—that's nothing to sneeze at. Maelstrom can handle the rest.

(Palkia—she'd thought she was over this by now. Apparently not. Well, at least she knows how to deal with it this time: trust in her pokemon and train like distortion before hitting the gyms. Not that she hadn't been doing that last part already.)

"You did well, Corundum," she tells the pokeball. "Really well. Now... let's finish this. Maelstrom, go!"

Her Piplup comes out with a confident cry, stretching his wings and strutting his stuff. Roark takes one look at him and goes, "Oh no."

"Oh, yes," Cynthia says. 

She tries for a smile, though it's nowhere near as confident as Maelstrom is—and nowhere near as confident as it should be. Apparently getting thrown a year back in time and forced out of her comfort zone, forced to start over again from zero, wreaks havoc on your self-confidence. Who would have known?

She clears her throat and shouts, "Maelstrom, Bubble!"

It's all over after that. Roark recalls his Cranidos with a sigh, walks on over, and offers her a shiny new badge and a TM. "Here you go, Diana. The Coal Badge, and a TM for one of my personal favorite moves—"

"It's Stealth Rock, isn't it," Cynthia says lightly, reaching down to pick up Maelstrom. She scritches him under his chin, looks him in the eyes, and whispers, "You did really good. You did so good. I'm so proud of you both."

Roark just sighs. "No, it's Surf. Yes, it's Stealth Rock, and are you... going to take these, or...?"

"Oh! Yeah, yes, sorry." Cynthia shifts Maelstrom to one arm—though he wastes no time in climbing up to her shoulder from there, and Cynthia has no issues with that. She takes the TM, slips it into the appropriate pocket of her bag, and... pauses. "I... where am I supposed to keep the badge?"

"Huh?" Roark stares, for a long moment, before smacking a hand to his forehead. "Shit. I'm so sorry, I keep forgetting this is your first gym, you really give off a vibe like it isn't. Give me a sec, I've got some—over here—assuming old King Coal didn't start chewing on them again—"

Walking off to the side, he moves aside a tarp covering a space between two fake rocks, and just—sighs. "Coal. Buddy. I need one of those."

A peek around Roark reveals a Rampardos—that's... the evolution of Cranidos, Cynthia is pretty sure, though that and Cranidos are proof in themselves that she actually does need to fill out the pokedex again. The Rampardos in question is far bigger than the Cranidos Roark had used in battle, and is currently blinking at him sleepily from the position it had taken atop a small pile of badge cases.

Roark sighs louder. "Coal. Coal, buddy, please. We cannot do this every time a challenger needs a badge case."

"Um, excuse me?" Dawn calls from the sidelines. "Barry and I didn't get one either—"

Turning to stare at Dawn for a moment, Roark just stands there for a long moment before giving up entirely and burying his head in his hands. "Hold on. I'll just snag... hey, is your friend there planning to challenge me, too? Might as well grab a fourth preemptively."

"I-I'm not sure," Lucas says uncertainly.

"Yes the fuck he is," Barry says for him, clapping the other trainer on the shoulder. "He doesn't have the disadvantage I had, which is 'both of my pokemon are shit against rock-types.' He'll do great."

"I've only got one pokemon that'll do well against him. The other..." Lucas winces. "I love Riemann—"

"Riemann? You're such a fucking nerd, Arceus— "

"—but he's a literal baby and the only move he knows is Teleport. So. I've basically just got one pokemon. And—" His poketch on his wrist buzzes, and he glances down at it. "Oh, uh... Diana? Prof wants to see you. Said to find him in the center."

Cynthia blinks. "How did he know to text you?"

Lucas grins mareepishly. "I... may have been livetexting him updates on the fight."

Dawn peers over his shoulder and reports, "He also told Lucas to not be a coward and go fight Roark himself."

"Wh— hey!" Lucas covers up his wrist. "Dawn, what the fuck?"

"You can take as long as you need to get ready, so long as there aren't any challengers in line before you," Roark says, evidently not commenting on most of what the kids said. "Though... how will you know if you're ready or not if you don't give it a go? Or you can try taking on one of the other trainers who work here. No one ever does, it's—they're not just here for paperwork—"

"Hey, I fought them," Dawn says proudly. "They were great experience."

"I... will keep that in mind for the next gym," Cynthia says, internally kicking herself for forgetting about that and at the same time, patting herself on the back for not knowing something that someone supposedly completely new to this wouldn't know about. "Um. In that case, I'll... leave you kids to it?" She edges towards the door of the gym. "Bye."

And with that, she's out the door.

That was... wow. She barely even knows Roark and he was definitely suspicious. For leaders she's fought before... Byron and Gardenia come to mind most immediately... she'll have to be far more careful.

Honestly, the safest thing to do would be to avoid gyms entirely.

Sadly, there's a funny little thing called pride that won't let her do that. Pride, and the fact that far too many pokemarts won't sell you the best healing items unless you have a lot of badges. It's incredibly stupid and gatekeepy, in Cynthia's opinion, but—it is what it is.

After all this is over, maybe she'll work a bit harder on getting that particular restriction lifted.

She... has a lot of things to deal with once all of this is over.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum

Research Assistant Lucas
Kepler - Riemann

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Cynthia is, generally, fairly good at not getting lost. Really, there are people with much worse senses of direction, and one of them is another region's champion. So, personally, she thinks she's doing alright. But big cities are... never fun, which is one reason why Cynthia is particularly relieved that Professor Rowan asked to meet up in Oreburgh.

The other reason is, of course, that the other option would have been Jubilife and it's not a short walk from Oreburgh to Jubilife even if you use repels and sprint—and Cynthia, as a rule, makes a habit to not use repels if her pokemon are in any shape to fight. This is not a common rule, but she isn't about to abandon it just because of a little thing like being undercover.

Fortunately, though, Rowan is waiting for her right outside the pokemon center when she comes out of it, with a smile and a wave and a spoken, "Walk with me for a moment."

"Of course," Cynthia says, though they both know it's not just going to be a moment. Only once they're out of earshot of any eavesdropping humans—not necessarily a difficult feat, most of the town will be working hard in the mines for another hour at least—does she add, "What did you want to know?"

"Er... direct as always, I see." Rowan chuckles to himself. It really isn't that funny. "At the moment, just... how did it go?"

Cynthia just sighs. "The kids are doing well, I can tell you that. Barry and Dawn both have their badges, and when I left they were bullying Lucas into trying for one."

"Oh? Good! That boy needs to do more than just focus on research." Though the old man pauses, and glances furtively in the direction of the gym. "I'm not certain that I like your phrasing, though..."

"It's accurate," Cynthia says, and leaves it at that.

"...ah. Well, then." Rowan clears his throat. "How did... your gym challenge go? I wasn't expecting to hear about that from Lucas..."

"Well, if you were hearing from Lucas, you already know how it went."

"Which was...? Perhaps I want to hear it from you."

"Roark nearly recognized me and we barely even know each other, I really miss my team, and as it turns out, being bodily thrown back in time a year is really, really bad for your self-confidence." Cynthia looks irritably at nothing in particular. "You'd think that becoming the region's champion would put an end to that. You really would."

Rowan sighs sympathetically. "Cynthia—all being the Champion means, at face value, is that you're good at winning battles. It's up to you what you do with the role, and frankly, I think you've done quite a lot more with it than anyone was expecting you to."

"I'm... going to take that as a compliment," Cynthia says slowly. "Thanks."

"What it means is quite simply that no title is going to immediately change your life, or make you completely unaffected by... what, as best I can tell, was a very stressful event," Rowan elaborates. "You're still a very good trainer—you beat the gym on your first attempt, didn't you?"

"After falling back into my old habit of training to the point where I had to be forced into it," Cynthia mumbles.

"Yes, well—that habit did win you the championship, and clearly you still have people to force you into it." He pauses, looking her over, and—smiles. "You're certainly a far cry from that stuttering little girl from Celestic Town."

Cynthia grins back. "The one who knew more about Sinnohan legends than you did, you mean? That one? The one who went from knowing next to nothing about pokemon to the region's champion in two years? That little girl?"

Rowan laughs. "There's the Cynthia we all know and love. How's the pokedex treating you this time around?"

"Onix are far harder to catch than I remember, to begin with." Cynthia says flatly. "And... there's a few new pokemon, aren't there? Roark had a Cranidos on his gym team, and a Rampardos—I hadn't realized they'd been added to Sinnoh's pokedex."

"Oh, yes! The scientists down at the Oreburgh Mining Museum have been immensely helpful on that front," Rowan agrees. "You shouldn't be so surprised that there are new entries, though—a good pokedex is always growing and changing, and you'd know that better than most."

"Yes, I would," Cynthia agrees. "Given that you thought—"

"Yes, yes, I know, in retrospect it absolutely was not a pokemon egg, let an old man live," Rowan huffs. He clears his throat. "Speaking of the entries you had a hand in... I still haven't heard a word about a group called Team Galactic."

"You will," Cynthia says. It's not a threat. It's a promise, and it's one she of all people would love to not keep. "They're around. I underestimated them once, I won't do so again."

"And you... still aren't willing to share much more regarding the future, are you?"

She shakes her head. "If it makes you feel any better, I couldn't tell you the winning lottery numbers anyway."

"That—that isn't what I was going to ask!"

Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "You're getting awfully defensive if you weren't."

Rowan clears his throat and says, "Why don't you let me see your pokemon? Piplup in particular—Lucas told me that your little one was crucial in winning the match."

"Changing the subject, I see what you're doing," Cynthia replies. But she still reaches into her bag. "It wasn't just him. Honestly, they both contributed... a massive amount to our win. Couldn't have done it with just one—and really, I wouldn't have wanted to."

She turns, heading for a bench on the side of the road, and takes a seat. Only then does she go for both of her pokeballs—she should have six, but she's been over this, it has to be fine even if it's not—and releases both of the pokemon within. "Maelstrom, Corundum—come on out. Say hello to Professor Rowan, he's an old friend of mine."

Corundum clambers up onto the bench beside Cynthia, pulling herself up by the arms in a feat of strength that most humans would be hard-pressed to replicate—though most humans are more than just head and arms like the average Geodude. Maelstrom comes out, takes one look at Rowan, and—smiles.

Then he starts to glow. An inexperienced trainer might have no idea what's happening, but Cynthia knows. She's seen this before, on multiple occasions... though never with a Piplup specifically, and usually it happens right after battle, so she's not entirely sure why now.

"Oh!" Rowan's eyes widen, and he gets down on one knee to examine Maelstrom more closely. "One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you was because of him, actually—according to the pokedex, he should have evolved before the gym battle. But it's not unheard of for pokemon to wait on evolution for one reason or another... but why?"

The light fades, revealing that Maelstrom the Piplup has now evolved into Maelstrom the Prinplup. He's noticeably taller, for starters—though not quite to the size he'll be as an Empoleon, and Cynthia doesn't see a lot of pokemon that aren't fully evolved at the pokemon league, for... obvious reasons. While as a Piplup, Maelstrom was small enough to fit in her lap, he's twice that size as a Prinplup.

...he probably could still fit in her lap if they really made an effort at it. He definitely will not be able to once he's an Empoleon, but it'll be a while before he evolves any further.

Speaking of evolution—Cynthia might know why Maelstrom waited this long. Her smile returns, and she kneels to be a bit closer to his height too. "You're as sentimental as me, aren't you?"

Maelstrom blinks at her innocently. "Pri?"

"Do correct me if I'm wrong," she looks over at Rowan, "but I think he waited specifically until you were here. You left a pretty big impression on the little guy. How long did you have him before you gave him to me?"

"About... a week?" Rowan blinks. "Really? Is she right?"

"Prinplup," Maelstrom agrees, ruffling his feathers.

"Well, you do study evolution," Cynthia points out. "I'd be more surprised if he hadn't picked up on that."

Rowan raises a hand to his face. Suddenly choked up, he says, "I think I'm going to cry. Excuse me for... just a moment."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Getting from Oreburgh City to Eterna would be a simple matter... if Cynthia was currently in possession of a bicycle. She hasn't used hers for serious cross-country in a very long time, but she's pretty sure she did use hers at least once in the past year, so she can't commit Grand Theft Bicycle on herself. (Also, she'd have to get there, which is somewhat easier said than done)

The only bicycle shop in Sinnoh is located in Eterna City. And, as much as Cynthia would like to at least try to get up the sandy ramp, you're not allowed on the Cycling Road without a bicycle, so she'd only be able to get to Hearthome from there.

She could just try climbing up anyway.

But going to Hearthome next would mean going through Mt. Coronet, and her pokemon aren't ready for Mt. Coronet.

(She isn't ready for Mt. Coronet, either.)

So, Jubilife it is first of all. From Jubilife north to Floaroma, and then to Eterna from there through the forest. At least, that's the plan.

That plan very quickly goes out the window when a familiar voice calls, just as the forest comes into view, "Diana! Wait up!"

She does, turning, to see Dawn. The girl catches up at last, breathing hard, her Luxio racing at her heels. The much less out of breath electric-type beside her makes a concerned mew and paws at her trainer as Dawn doubles over, hands on her knees, gasping for breath.

"Are you... alright?" Cynthia asks, an eyebrow raised.

"I'm—" Dawn sucks in a breath, and nods, still breathing heavily. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks, Tuxedo. Uh... whew, I'm glad I caught you. There's—well—give me a second."

The eyebrow raises higher. "O... kay?"

"How the fuck do I even describe them," Dawn mutters, looking at Tuxedo, and—oh.

Oh. They're causing trouble already? Cynthia... shouldn't be surprised, she'd heard whispers about things Team Galactic had done even before they started blowing up lakes and kidnapping minor gods, but this is... earlier than she expected.

"Team Galactic?" She asks, before she can stop herself, and Dawn's eyes go wide.

"Uh... yeah, actually." Dawn breathes a sigh of relief. "Prof told you about them?"

"...no," Cynthia says slowly. It was her who told Professor Rowan about Team Galactic to begin with, actually. "I... ran into them a bit ago. They tried to steal my pokemon, I unceremoniously made sure they knew where they could shove their demands. I thought they were just a group of thugs..."

"Oh, they are," Dawn says matter-of-factly and oh so wrongly. "They're just thugs with some kind of an agenda. A couple of them tried to mug the prof and Lucas back in Jubilife—"

"They what?"

That—Cynthia never heard about something like that. They'd... attacked Professor Rowan?

Why? He studies evolution . That has absolutely nothing to do with what Team Galactic was doing on Mt. Coronet eleven months in the future. At least, Cynthia doesn't think it had anything to do with that...

Dawn takes Cynthia's shocked look entirely the wrong way and nods sagely. "Yeah, Lucas and I fought them off, it was fine, the prof verbally tore them a collective new one, and I figured that was the end of it. But then I ran into this little girl on my way out of Floaroma Town—she lives at the Windworks normally, I brought her back to the Floaroma pokecenter for now—who said that Team Galactic had taken over the place, kicked her out and kidnapped her dad—"

"WHAT?!"

"Yeah, I fucking know, assholes. So I went to go fight the grunt at the entrance, but he locked the door after him, but he mentioned that some assholes in the meadow north of Floaroma had the other keycard, so I went over there, fought those two, got the keycard—" Dawn pulls said keycard out of her bag and brandishes it proudly. "—and then Barry called me and Lucas to tell us about a cool rock he found that looked like his face, I offhandedly mentioned that I was going to throw down with those Galactic assholes, they both banned me from doing it alone, and neither of them will be here for another thirty minutes."

Cynthia blinks, trying to wrap her head around all this. Eventually she says, "But you saw me, and if I was with you—"

"I don't have to wait for the others!" Dawn grins. "With the two of us, we can take Team Galactic, I'm sure of it! And if all else fails, Lucas and Barry are on their way and they know where we were going, so... please, Diana?"

Beside her, Tuxedo makes remarkably good lillipup eyes. Cynthia considers this for a long moment, then smiles. "Don't be ridiculous. Of course I'm coming with you. You'd go anyway even if I didn't, wouldn't you?"

"Um..." Dawn's grin takes on a distinctly nervous tinge. "I plead the fifth?"

"We aren't in Unova, try again." 

Cynthia finds Maelstrom's pokeball in her bag and sends the Prinplup out—he'd been resting after a rather hard battle with a very enthusiastic hiker, but he's back to fighting strength now, and he chirps a jolly greeting to Tuxedo. The Luxio flicks her tail back and forth and mews cheerfully in response.

"In any case," Cynthia says gently, "I'd... only be the world's biggest hypocrite if I told you not to go."

Dawn blinks. "What?"

She reaches down, patting Maelstrom on the head. "I may not have explicitly stated it, but this isn't my first pokemon journey. If you don't get in way over your head at least once, you're not doing it right."

And really, looking back, that probably isn't a healthy attitude in the slightest. But a much younger Cynthia—a Cynthia around Dawn's age now, actually—had managed, with her friends, to stop the last evil team that tried to call Sinnoh home.

At this point, it almost feels nostalgic. So she turns to Maelstrom and says, "Hey, Maelstrom. You want to go fight Team Galactic?"

To his credit, Maelstrom—who Cynthia isn't actually sure she’s told who Team Galactic is, oops—looks at her, and nods firmly. He cries out, "Prin!"

"I'll take that as a yes," Cynthia decides. "Let's do this, shall we?"

Dawn's confident grin returns. "Between the two of us, Team Galactic won't stand a chance!"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, Team Galactic did, in fact, stand a chance. They didn't at first, to Dawn's credit. What Tuxedo the Luxio couldn't tear through with her fangs and electricity, Maelstrom the Prinplup did with his claws and watery deluge. The grunts were, predictably, pathetic.

And then they got to the main room of the windworks, where a man in a lab coat matching the description Dawn had passed on sits at a computer, and two other people bearing the distinctive yellow G for Galactic converse in low tones. Cynthia's never seen the one with purple hair before, but the woman...

She's seen her before. That, if memory serves, is either Commander Mars or Commander Jupiter.

Whatever her name is, she'd been—she will be —at the Spear Pillar in eleven months.

"What do we do now?" Dawn whispers, eyes wide.

That's... a pretty good question, honestly. There isn't exactly a guide to dealing with whatever your region's brand of terrorists turns out to be, whether it's just the kind who wants money like Team Rocket, some well-meaning extremists like whatever was going on in Hoenn more recently, or Team Galactic, who want to destroy the world. That being said, Dawn's at least not a well-meaning ten-year-old. She's fourteen.

(Cynthia had been fourteen, too, when it all began.)

"Stay close, and keep your guard up," Cynthia warns. "They won't be happy we made it this far. Though—the grunts we defeated did run this way, so it isn't as if they don't know we're here."

Dawn swallows nervously. "Oh."

As if on cue, the woman with bobbed red hair turns toward the doorway and says, with all the fake friendliness of a politician, "Oh, aren't you going to come in?"

"There it is," Cynthia mutters under her breath. She signals for Maelstrom to follow her, holds her head up high, and walks in. Looking the commander dead in the eyes, she says aloud, "Might as well, while we're here."

Dawn and Tuxedo follow suit. Tuxedo visibly hisses, and Dawn all but growls, "You're the motherfuckers who took over the Windworks. You're Team Galactic."

"Oh, so you've heard of us!" Probably-Mars places a hand over her heart. Voice dripping with sarcasm, mouth visibly scowling, she says, "I'm touched. Truly."

"Touched?" Dawn wrinkles her nose. "Weird name."

Cynthia tries not to laugh at the offended look on the woman's face, she does. She doesn't succeed.

"Oh, we'll see how much of a smartass you are when I'm done with you," the commander mutters. "Who do you think you are?"

"Oh! I'm—"

"News flash: I don't give a shit." Her hand goes to a pokeball on her belt. "You won't matter, once we've achieved our goal. As for me? I'm Mars. One of Team Galactic's three commanders."

"Four," hisses the man who looks kind of like an eggplant, getting up to stand beside her.

Mars rolls her eyes. "Oh, my mistake. Four commanders. Together, Team Galactic will create a new world—a new world far superior to this one. But of course, people show little understanding as to what we really want. You don't understand either, do you?"

"What I don't understand," Cynthia mutters, "is what... holding a man hostage in a power plant, or mugging random people for their pokemon, has to do with creating a new world."

"Of course you don't," the man says. "You don't have to understand. You just have to step aside, and let us—"

"Charon," Mars says sharply.

"Yes?"

"Shut the fuck up." Mars returns her attention to the intruders. "Tell you what. I like your spunk, and we've gotten what we needed from here already, so? Why don't we have a little battle, just to make things a little less dull around here?"

"What in distortion are you doing," Charon hisses, to no avail.

Dawn's eyes narrow. "A pokemon battle? Sure—"

"What's the catch?" Cynthia asks, because of course there's one.

Mars spreads her arms wide, and chuckles. "It's simple. If you manage to win against me, then we, Team Galactic, will leave in peace. If you don't? Then you leave, or things will get... messy."

"Deal," Dawn says immediately. "We're not going to lose."

"We? Oh, no. One of you fights me."

"And then we both have to leave?" Cynthia shakes her head. "I don't think so."

"What, afraid the little girl will lose?"

"Not at all. I'd be surprised if she did." The smile Cynthia gives Mars is nothing approaching a friendly one. "I just don't like being left out... and I'm sure a commander could handle two of us, naturally."

"Oh, I don't like you," Mars decides. She looks over at Charon. "You're going to join in."

Charon narrows his eyes. "I don't take orders from you."

"No? Well, you do from the boss. I've been here far longer than you, and I'm sure they won't be happy to hear you didn't lift a finger to help if I lose, now, will they?"

"They?" Dawn whispers under her breath. "Huh. Diversity win."

Given that Cynthia knows exactly who the they being talked about is, she isn't sure whether she wants to laugh or cry at Dawn's statement. Somehow, she manages to do neither.

"Fine," Charon replies. "But know this: I'll make sure the boss knows exactly who was responsible for this terrible idea."

"Yes, yes, you've got drama, can we get to the battle?" Cynthia asks. "Maelstrom, get out there."

"Gladly," Mars hisses, pointedly ignoring Charon. She throws out a pokeball. "Cosma, deal with them."

With a furtive glare at Mars, Charon sends out his own pokemon. "Zubat."

Cosma is, as it turns out, a Zubat as well.

"Well, this is going to be easier than I thought," Dawn remarks. "Tuxedo, why don't you handle this?"

Dawn's Luxio and Cynthia's Prinplup join the pair of Zubat on the battlefield. Charon visibly pales. Mars, on the other hand, either has too much hubris, not enough self-preservation, or both to realize just how bad of a matchup this is. 

She shouts, "Cosma, Toxic on the Luxio!"

"Oh, fuck you," is Dawn's reply. "Hang in there, Tuxedo. Spark on that bat!"

Tuxedo shakes the Zubat's fangs off her, growls low, and slams into Mars's Zubat with an unmistakable crackle of electricity. The Zubat lets out a scream, jerking backwards into the air. It's wings are smoking as it flutters down to the ground, clearly out of it. Mars visibly scowls and recalls her pokemon, leaving only Charon's for now.

"Bite," Charon orders simply. His pokemon obeys, clamping down onto Tuxedo's ear and chomping down hard.

Tuxedo hisses, attempting to shake off the Zubat to no avail.

"Bubblebeam," Cynthia orders. No need to specify a target when there's only one there, and on the off chance it hits Tuxedo on accident, it won't hurt the Luxio very much.

Maelstrom chirps his assent and blows. The bubbles of before are faster now, harder, and they explode into the second Zubat's face, sending the poor thing flying. It's not enough to bring it down, sadly.

"Tuxedo, Spark!" Dawn calls.

Tuxedo is all too happy to obey, eyes and tailtip glowing gold as she charges up the move. Except—

"Felis, darling? Fake Out."

The most massive Purugly Cynthia has ever seen leaps into the fray, slamming face-first into Tuxedo and causing her to flinch backwards. Oh. That... that complicates matters.

"Oh, fuck you," Dawn hisses at Mars.

"Get your feline out of my way," Charon mutters to his fellow commander. "Zubat. Bite again."

Zubat does so—and Tuxedo faints, swaying on her feet before she falls. Dawn mutters a string of obscenities under her breath as she recalls her Luxio, sending out an Onix that barely fits in the room instead with a shout of, "Mesa, go! Rock Tomb on that Zubat!"

The Zubat, impossibly, dodges. 

"Metal Claw," Cynthia says, and it doesn't dodge that. That leaves only the Purugly, and... a particularly sleepy-looking Slowpoke.

"Felis," Mars replies, glaring at Charon, "is the only reason your pathetic little bat didn't bite it ages ago."

"Bubblebeam on the—"

"Fake Out!"

Oh, Cynthia hates that move. Fortunately, it can only hit one pokemon at a time, and Cynthia is reasonably sure that it gets harder and harder to do the more times it's done in a row. 

Dawn grins, throws out a hand, and says, "Rock Smash on that Purugly!"

Mesa is all too happy to oblige, slamming her body down on the Purugly with one super-effective move courtesy of Roark and Oreburgh Gym.

The Purugly gets back up.

The Purugly gets back up.

It barely even looks miffed.  

"Deal with that Onix, since my compatriot here so very clearly can't," Charon tells his Slowpoke. "Confusion."

It's super effective, because of course it is. For a few, terrifying moments, it looks like the Slowpoke's managed to take down another of Dawn's pokemon in one hit, the Onix crashing to the ground in a heap of shuddering boulders.

Then Mesa gets back up, and Dawn lets out a triumphant whoop. "Mesa, use—"

"Faint Attack," Mars commands, and the Onix is down. "What was that you were saying about me not being able to deal with a fucking rock?"

"That was mine," is Charon's annoyed response. "You wouldn't have been able to handle it if I hadn't already weakened it."

"Twigsby, it's all up to you, now," Dawn says in a low voice, glancing furtively at the two members of Team Galactic now arguing furiously with each other. She looks to Cynthia. "You've got... more pokemon than just your Prinplup, right?"

Cynthia nods. "My Geodude, too. And then that's it."

Dawn sucks in a breath. "Oh boy. Maybe we should have waited for—"

"No. We've got this. If nothing else, because they can't work together to save their own lives." Cynthia gives the kid a smile. "The Purugly's the bigger threat, at the moment—but if I have to switch to Corundum while that Slowpoke is still out..."

"Gotcha. Let's focus on the Slowpoke first." Dawn takes a deep breath, then shouts, "Hey, assholes! Twigsby, Razor Leaf on the—oh!"

The Turtwig slams his feet down onto the ground, summoning leaves into being in the air and sending them at both the Purugly and the Slowpoke. Dawn's surprised, but pleased.

Cynthia isn't surprised. The Slowpoke isn't down yet, but it will be soon. "Maelstrom, Bubblebeam on the Slowpoke."

It won't take much more to bring Charon's pokemon down, and it doesn't. Charon throws the pokeball at his downed pokemon with enough force to make Cynthia visibly cringe, then yells at Mars, "Now look what you've done!"

"Relax, bitch, I've got this," Mars says. "Felis? Scratch on the Prinplup."

The Purugly lets out a distinctly irritated yowl and leaps into the fray, clawing furiously at Maelstrom. The Prinplup stumbles back, visibly staggering.

"Twigsby, you can—"

"Now finish that little shit off!"

Cynthia's eyes widen. It's time to get Maelstrom out of there, but as she's fumbling for the pokeball—

"Twigsby, move!"

The Turtwig lets out a cry and puts himself between Maelstrom and the Purugly's attack. It hits, harder than before.

Cynthia finds the pokeball and recalls Maelstrom into it, sending out Corundum in his place. Corundum's just in time to catch Twigsby as he staggers back.

Just in time for Twigsby to start to glow. Corundum's eyes widen, and she scoots even further back with a reverent mutter of, "Geo..."

"Are you fucking kidding me," Mars hisses. "How many pokemon do you little shits have?"

"That's for us to know, and for you to never find out," Cynthia says confidently.

Mars gives her a long look, then looks back at her pokemon and says, "They're on their last ones. Felis, you can handle this. You know, I've always wondered what would happen if you attacked an evolving pokemon."

"How did she—" Cynthia shakes her head. "Corundum, protect Twigsby. Rock Smash."

Corundum cries her assent. Punching the ground, she launches herself up and over the glowing, growing soon to be no longer a Turtwig and slams both her fists down onto the Purugly's head. Felis yowls in pain, leaping back out of the way only to bite down hard on Corundum's arm without orders.

The light fades at last, revealing a Grotle. A Grotle who is all too happy to slam his newly evolved feet down onto the floor so hard it cracks, and fire off one final Razor Leaf directly into the Purugly's eyes.

At last, the Purugly falls.

"I told you," Charon begins.

"You, shut the fuck up," Mars hisses. She returns her attention to Dawn and Cynthia. "Well. A deal's a deal, and I'll admit that I enjoyed our battle—when this fucking prick wasn't getting in the way—"

"Me? Getting in the way? You would have lost much faster and then some without me!"

Mars snorts. "No, you're right, this is better. This way I can quite happily blame you. Now, shut the fuck up."

Charon grumbles under his breath, but disappears into a back room. 

Mars returns her attention, again, to Dawn and Cynthia. "As I was saying. A deal's a deal. We'll be on our way as soon as I can wrangle all these useless people..." She glances backwards in the direction Charon had disappeared in and adds, disdainfully, "And the grunts. You're welcome to wait outside."

"We'll wait right here, actually," Cynthia replies.

Mars shrugs. "As you wish."

Surprisingly, Mars is true to her word. Team Galactic's gone from the Valley Windworks within ten minutes—and while the last thing Cynthia wants to do is watch them go, you have to pick your battles, and Cynthia picks too many as is.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Cynthia's just barely stepped out of the Windworks grounds, intending to head directly to the pokemon center with no stops, no backtracks, no nothing, when a blur of yellow and white and orange and green slams bodily into her, tackling her to the ground.

"Take that, Galactic scum," crows a voice that sounds suspiciously like Barry.

"Um... Barry, I... don't think that's..." Lucas winces. He waves awkwardly, and the Kadabra behind him mimics the motion. "Hi, Diana."

"Hi," Cynthia says, pushing herself up and brushing herself off. "Barry, I mean this in the nicest way possible, but... do you have eyes?"

Barry grins nervously. "In my defense, I'm the only person here who hasn't seen Team Galactic before. They could be anyone!"

"No, they couldn't," Lucas says.

"No, they couldn't," Cynthia agrees.

"No, they really, really couldn't," Dawn says from behind her. "You thought Diana was Team Galactic? That's fucking hilarious, but also I'd be fucking screwed if she was a member of Team Galactic. We barely beat them as is."

Cynthia looks down at Corundum thoughtfully, and sighs. "You're right. That was... far too close. We're going to need to do a lot more training, little one."

"Geodude," Corundum agrees, propping herself up on Cynthia's foot.

"Told you, you should have waited for us," Barry says. "What if you'd lost!"

"I would have fistfought a bitch," Dawn says with zero hesitation.

"Dawn, no," Lucas tries.

"Dawn, yes!"

Wordlessly, soundlessly, and somewhat desperately, Lucas buries his head in his hands. His Kadabra pats him on the back.

Completely oblivious to her friend's plight, Dawn continues, "Anyway, almost doesn't matter. We did win, and Twigsby evolved!" 

She sends out the Grotle, who chirps a greeting. He still looks somewhat wary of so many people, but now that he's bigger he seems significantly less wary. Riemann waves to him too, as does Corundum.

"Oh, wow," Lucas says. "...so, uh, the situation's... taken care of?"

"Sure is," Cynthia says. "We were just on our way back to Floaroma to—"

"Retrieve the child." Barry grins. "Dawn told us."

Lucas nods. "Yep. So... Team Galactic's gone? You're not... at all worried about them coming back?"

"Nope," Dawn says.

Cynthia frowns, suddenly. "I am now. That did seem... too easy."

"Too easy? We were both on our last pokemon! How is that too easy?"

"I've just... got a bad feeling." Cynthia decides not to mention that Team Galactic had been far stronger than that when she'd taken them on in Mt. Coronet, for more reasons than just the obvious 'surprise, I'm a time traveler and secretly the champion of this region' one. "I'll stick around here until you kids get back, alright? Corundum's still in fighting shape. She can handle any stragglers, can't you, girl?"

Corundum hums an affirmative and curls her rocky hands into two equally rocky thumbs-ups.

"Okay, but... if something goes wrong, you've got no way of getting in contact with the rest of us," Lucas says thoughtfully. "I'd been meaning to look into something in the area for the prof, I don't mind sticking—"

"I'll hang out here," Barry cuts in. "You two should get going."

Lucas opens his mouth. He shuts it again. "Um. Okay. Dawn?"

Dawn looks, slightly confusedly, at Barry. But then she returns her attention to the other boy, nods, and recalls Twigsby to his pokeball. "Last one there's a burnt-up poffin!"

She's off like a shot, clearly taking the opportunity to run places without losing badly to Mr. Sprints Everywhere over here. Lucas chokes out a "Hey, fuck you, wait up —" before giving up on that entirely and taking off after her.

"So," Cynthia says to Barry. "Surprised you're not sprinting after them."

"Me too," Barry says. "C'mon. I heard from Lucas that there's a special pokemon that comes here only on Fridays, and I'm gonna catch it."

That... has got to be a new one, too. Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "A special pokemon, huh? Alright. So you aren't really worried about Team Galactic coming back?"

Barry laughs. "Of course I am. But worrying's not gonna do shit, is it?"

Cynthia opens her mouth. She shuts it. Barry makes a very good point.

"Anyway, if they do come back?" He sends out his Chimchar—oh, no, his Monferno. "Rush and I'll kick them right back to the curb."

Rush beats his chest with a loud, proud cry of "Ferno!"

Whatever it is the Monferno says, Corundum sounds distinctly unimpressed when she responds, "Geo-geo."

Barry's pokemon makes an affronted gasp and puts a hand to his chest, but doesn't further respond.

Cynthia... is not going to try to figure that out. She says, "Alright. Today's... Friday?"

"Sure is, unless I mixed up the days again..." Barry sucks in a breath and looks down at his poketch. "Nope, thank Dialga, it is Friday. Let's find that pokemon!"

As if on cue, something, somewhere nearby, makes a distinct cry of "FLOON!"

Barry gasps. "That's it! C'mon, Rush, we gotta move!"

And on that note, he and his aptly named pokemon rush back into the Valley Windworks. Cynthia exchanges a look with Corundum.

"This should be interesting," Cynthia remarks. "Shall we follow them?"

"Geo," Corundum agrees, and starts pushing herself back towards the Windworks. 

Cynthia moves to pick her up again, but can't quite manage it. She sighs, and leans down to Corundum, and mutters, "I am going to be able to pick you up at some point before you evolve, or so help me Palkia—"

"Geodude," Corundum says skeptically, right before her trainer sighs, shakes her head, and recalls her. For now.

(She is going to get strong enough to pick her up eventually, though. Carrying around a Piplup helped with that, and a Prinplup isn't that much bigger... well, he kind of is , but still. She'll figure something out.)

"AHA!" comes a shout from within the Windworks. "I found you!"

And, when Cynthia emerges back into the clearing, it's somewhat obvious just what Barry's found. He and his Monferno stand opposite a... oh, that's a new pokemon to be sure. A... she glances down at the pokedex... a Drifloon.

They used to be incredibly rare, almost never showing themselves to humans. Thanks to a few over-enthusiastic pokemon breeders, though, they're now much more common... in theory. In practice, the moment you pull out a pokeball around the vast majority of them, they flee.

Someone had managed to catch one and document it for the pokedex project, eventually—and Cynthia isn't particularly surprised to see the name Fantina credited as being responsible for the addition, not when she spies the pokemon's typing.

She is surprised that this one isn't fleeing. No, it looks almost curious about Barry and his pokemon, peering in to examine him with a curious mutter of "Dri?"

"Hey! I don't know what the fuck you are, but I'm gonna catch you," Barry says, which is precisely the wrong thing to say here. He points, and Rush scrambles into place. "Are you ready? Because I AM!"

It's a miracle of legendary proportions that the Drifloon doesn't immediately flee. It floats lower, making a curious burbling noise with a battle cry of "Floon!"

"Alright!" Barry grins. "Rush, Mach Punch!"

Cynthia, looking at her pokedex, freezes and looks at Corundum with a grimace. "Uh, Barry? That's... not going to—"

"Drifloon!" The pokemon burbles again as the Monferno's punch passes through its body harmlessly. It shakes a little, back and forth. Cynthia thinks it might be laughing.

"What the fuck?" Barry says. "That can't be... Rush! Try again!"

"Hold it," Cynthia says, stepping forward. "That's a ghost-type. I'd recommend using literally any pokemon but Rush, myself."

Barry blinks back at her, confused. "Huh? What does it being a ghost have to do with anything?"

"Fighting-type moves don't do anything, under normal circumstances," Cynthia explains.

"...huh. Alright. More you fucking know, I guess... Rush, use Fury Swi—"

"That's a normal-type move, that doesn't do anything to ghost-types either."

"WHAT?!" Barry's jaw drops and he glares at the Drifloon. "That's just fucking unfair!"

"Floooon." Okay, now it's definitely laughing at him. But it takes a break from laughing to twirl in a circle midair, whipping up a Gust around the Monferno—a flying-type move that's super effective.

Rush the Monferno stumbles back, visibly battered now, with an angry mutter of "Ferno..."

"Please tell me he has a move that isn't fighting or normal," Cynthia says without much hope. "Although honestly, you should probably switch to your Starly, it's got a type advantage on you as well."

"No, we're gonna win this," Barry insists stubbornly. "Rush, use, uh... Flame Wheel!"

The Monferno is all too happy to oblige. With a shout, he calls flames to his hands, making a spinning motion of his own as he leaps up off the ground and this time firmly connects with the Drifloon.

"Dri?!" The Drifloon looks almost disappointed. It uses Gust again, and Barry's forced to recall his Monferno, sending out his Starly—oh, no, that evolved too—in Rush's place. The Staravia, Zip, flutters up into the air and calls out, "Ra!"

"Zip, my beloved, you've got this," Barry says firmly. "Quick Atta—wait, shit, normal-type. Uhhh... Wing Attack!"

Zip chirps an assent, lunging in to smack the Drifloon with a wing before darting backwards out of range. 

Or, at least, what should have been out of range. The Drifloon fades from view slightly, purple light glowing, and then—smacks the Staravia right out of the sky.

"What the fuck was that?!" Barry demands, recalling his pokemon (as the Drifloon does a victory dance, which he pointedly ignores.)

"I think Payback," Cynthia says thoughtfully.

"Wh—hey, fuck off, that's uncalled for! What did I do to—"

"Not that kind of payback. The move Payback. It's a dark-type move, does more damage if it's used after the pokemon using it just got hit." Cynthia pauses, looking over at the rather put out looking trainer. "You have more than just those two pokemon, right?"

"What, so you have more than two pokemon?" Barry fires back, which is a no. He stuffs his pokeballs back into his bag, scowling, and mutters, "I will be right back, you, stay right fucking there—"

The Drifloon definitely looks and sounds amused now. It burbles a noise that might be assent.

"Pokecenter run?" Cynthia guesses. She looks at the Drifloon thoughtfully. "You mind if I have a go while you're gone?"

Barry snorts. "Nah, go for it. That thing is terrifyingly strong. But if you catch it while I'm gone, I'm gonna fine you a million pokedollars!"

"No, you won't."

"No, I won't." Barry groans. "Dianaaa… How come you never have a good reaction to that?!"

"I don't... know?" Cynthia shrugs. "Pokecenter?"

"Pokecenter." Barry backs away slowly. He jabs two fingers towards his own eyes, turns his hand around, and jabs them at the Drifloon. "I will be back. And I won't lose to you again."

He turns and runs. Cynthia, and Corundum by her feet, and the wild Drifloon, all watch him go. She waits for him to be out of sight before turning to the Drifloon once more. "Hello! You fancy a battle with Corundum here?"

The Drifloon floats downwards a bit, inspecting the rock-type. It looks a little intimidated, but nevertheless bobs its head back and forth in an approximation of a nod. Then, before Corundum can even fully get out in front of her, it dashes in, causing her pokemon to flinch back.

"Astonish," Cynthia guesses. "Smart move. And you know... what with you being a ghost-type and a flying-type... you're actually immune to all but one of Corundum's moves."

"Floo?" It cocks its head at her, blinking.

"First off, there's Rock Smash. Not going to work because you're a ghost-type." She counts off the moves on her fingers. "Then we have Tackle, which, same reason, you're a spooky ghost and you despise normality, which is an attitude I can absolutely get on board with."

"Floo????"

"Don't worry about it," Cynthia says. "Next, we've got Magnitude. Shakes the ground, would do a bit more damage than normal since—well, ground-type move, ground-type pokemon, except you aren't on the ground. That leaves Corundum's final move... which is, unfortunately for you, super-effective. Let's hope Barry didn't hit you too hard. Corundum, Rock Throw."

Corundum, having since recovered from being astonished by—well, Astonish —is all too happy to oblige. A rock forms in her hand out of nothing, and she throws it, hard as she can. If Cynthia were a few years younger and a bit more familiar with current memes, she might refer to what Corundum does as a yeet.

The rock hits the Drifloon hard. There's a high-pitched squealing sound, for a few moments, as the Drifloon starts to deflate—but it manages to recover, barely, righting itself back in midair if floating a little closer to the ground. It looks at Corundum far more warily, now, before it phases out of existence again to attack with the purple light of Payback.

That's a solid hit on Corundum, too. One more hit on either side, and the loser will faint.

Thing is, though, Cynthia doesn't actually want the Drifloon to faint. She took a gamble, with Corundum's Rock Throw. So far, it's paying off.

She pulls out a pokeball, glances behind her—no sign of the kids, still, thankfully. Floaroma's close but not that close, she has at least a few more minutes even if Barry sprints the whole way there and back, which... is pretty likely. There's no sign of the man working at the Windworks, either.

"Full disclosure," Cynthia says, "my name's actually Cynthia, but I'm currently going by Diana for... reasons I'll explain in more detail later. I'm trying to save the world. Would you like to help?"

The Drifloon just stares, which... honestly? That's fair. 

It starts to charge up one final attack, and—hoping she isn't making a mistake—she throws the pokeball. The red light surrounds the Drifloon, calling it in, and then the pokeball falls to the ground.

Corundum makes a pleased sound.

Cynthia shakes her head. "Wait."

The pokeball jiggles once.

The pokeball jiggles twice.

The pokeball jiggles three times.

And the light fades, and it stills. She's acquired a Drifloon, somehow. It'll be nice to have another ghost-type around.

(She misses Banshee. She misses everyone.)

And then, right as she leans down to pick up the pokeball and put it with the others—there's an unmistakable gasp, and the sound of a certain fast-running thirteen-year-old shouting, "Oh, come on!"

She turns to see Lucas and Dawn behind him. Dawn just grins, looks at Lucas, and says, "Pay up."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare

PKMN Trainer Barry
Rush - Zip

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"Are you fucking kidding me," Barry says.

Cynthia shrugs unapologetically. "Sorry? You did say you didn't mind."

"Didn't mind what, what am I missing?" Dawn asks, looking remarkably confused. "Lucas, do you have any idea what they're talking about?"

"Um... kind of?" Lucas shrugs. "Prof asked me to check out rumors of a rare pokemon being sighted in the area here—"

"Well yeah, I knew about that, but—"

 "I'm guessing that's what you've caught, Diana?"

"Mhm." Cynthia lets out the Drifloon, who makes a pleased burble as she circles Barry triumphantly. "Haven't thought up a name for her yet, but yeah. Drifloon. Decently rare pokemon— way more common than they used to be, though, I'm surprised this one didn't just flee."

Lucas raises an eyebrow. "Me too."

"She's so cute," Dawn gushes, pulling out her pokedex and pointing it at the Drifloon. "Oh, Arceus, hi! Can. Can I hug her."

"Don't ask me," Cynthia says, looking to the Drifloon. "You alright with it?"

The Drifloon burbles, then proceeds to headbutt Dawn in the chest. She gasps and hugs it back. "Oh wow, you literally are just—just a funky little balloon, huh!"

"Funky little balloon that steals children," Lucas says cheerfully, and everyone goes quiet. "What? It says it in the pokedex right here."

"It steals children??" Barry gasps, eyes wide. "I'm a child!"

Cynthia sighs. "Don't believe everything you read in the pokedex, please, quite a few entries are based solely off rumors and very little actual research . Don't believe everything you read in general, actually."

"What, so our region's champion isn't having an affair with the Kalosian one?" Dawn says nonchalantly, and Cynthia chokes.

"That's a new one—and no, definitely not. I'm—what... How would she even have an affair?? She's not married?? I'm—I'm pretty sure she's single???"

"That's what you think," Dawn says with all the confidence of a hubris-filled teenager who is completely and utterly wrong—and Cynthia can't even tell her just how wrong she is.

"Do you even know her name?"

Dawn grins a little too widely. "Welllllll... it's something with a C, right...?"

"No, that was the last one, it's something with an L," Lucas replies.

"Are you sure you're not just saying that because your name starts with an L? Because I think you're just saying that because your name starts with an L—"

"I am not!"

"Of course not, you couldn't be the Champion—"

"Duh??? I don't use she/her pronouns?? And I am not that intimidating, you saw how Roark was laughing at me before Riemann evolved mid-battle—"

"Both of you, shut up please!" Barry says firmly, looking the Drifloon dead in the eyes. "Hey, you. I want a rematch. And I want a rematch with Diana, too, so it works out great! Zip, you know what to—"

"Barry, no," Cynthia says. "You can have your rematch after I go to the pokemon center."

"What, afraid I'm gonna win?"

"No."

Lucas takes one look at her face and cackles. "Gods, that's—hey, if she doesn't want to, I'll battle you, Barry!"

"I know, Lucas," Barry says.

"You'll probably win against me again!"

"I know, Lucas."

"I'll battle you," Dawn says. "But you're gonna lose."

"Like distortion I will!" Barry throws his pokeball down, sending out his—yep, his Staravia first, that doesn't seem to have changed. It's not a bad strategy, either, given that his Staravia is probably faster than his Monferno. "Bring it on, Dawn!"

"Oh, this should be good." Dawn throws out her own pokeball, Tuxedo yawning and stretching as if waking up from a long nap inside her ball. "Tuxedo, Spark!"

"Zip, Double Team! Don't let her hit you!"

And as the rivals launch themselves into battle, Cynthia looks at Lucas, waves, and trudges off back in the direction of Floaroma Town, new pokemon in tow. It's a simple matter to get the Drifloon back inside her pokeball and healed up (along with Maelstrom and Corundum.)

It's a much less simple matter to try and think up a name for her. At last, halfway back to the Valley Windworks, it hits her. She turns to the Drifloon, and asks, "What do you think about Lunare?"

The Drifloon burbles in quiet contemplation. Then it floats around her head, crying, "Floo!"

"Is... that a yes?" Cynthia asks, and receives a nod. She smiles. "Great. Pleasure to be working with you, Lunare."

Hesitantly, she reaches out for one of the heart-shaped appendages dangling down from Lunare's head, and... shakes it.

Lunare burbles louder. She gets the distinct feeling she's being laughed at. Cynthia chooses to ignore that for now, glancing down the road at the WIndworks. There's still the distant sounds of teenagers yelling and what sounds like a very large crash of pokemon fighting each other.

"You know," Cynthia remarks, "they don't sound done."

"Floon?"

"I don't really want to interrupt their battle... and I'm sure Barry will track us down for that rematch sooner or later whether I like it or not."

The Drifloon blinks back at her innocently. Cynthia sighs and says, "Do you want to just go on ahead? I'm sure we can make it to the rest stop outside the forest by sundown, and there's this spooky abandoned house somewhere inside there, you'd like it..."

"Dri..." Lunare considers this, then bobs up and down and starts floating ahead. She stops before too long has passed, though, turning back to look at Cynthia. "Floo!"

Cynthia chuckles to herself, and picks up her pace. "I'll take that as a yes."

Eterna Forest is in sight before too long, though given that Cynthia had spotted it last time and this time from rather high up, that doesn't say much about how close it is. It still takes the rest of the day to get to the rest stop—which very notably isn't a pokemon center, just a house belonging to a couple of little old ladies who are all too happy to offer any traveling trainers and their pokemon somewhere to spend the night.

And then, the next morning... it's time for Eterna Forest. Cynthia takes a deep breath, and lets it out. 

She looks to Lunare. "Are you ready?"

Lunare burbles in response. Honestly, she looks a little concerned, and... alright, maybe Cynthia's a little apprehensive about going through here alone. Even though she's not alone, she has her pokemon, but...

Cynthia sighs, and shakes her head to herself. "Honestly, if either of us isn't ready, it would have to be me."

She takes a step forward, then another, and keeps walking. Lunare floats beside her, eventually asking, "Floon?"

"A lot of things happened here, back in my original journey," Cynthia says quietly. "Not all of them were bad, I met a very good friend of mine here for the first time, but..." She trails off, shaking her head. "Honestly, most of them weren't bad. If anything, I'm just a little worried—"

Brushing aside some leaves to get into the forest proper, she steps through them and freezes.

I'm just a little worried I'll run into her here, was what she was going to say. And she'd been right to be worried. Her old friend's scarcely changed her outfit at all since their days traveling together, though unlike a certain other mutual friend and traveling partner of theirs who is going to destroy the world in... closer to ten months now, Cynthia's at least spoken to her since then.

But that's not important right now. All this means is that Cynthia has to successfully pretend to be 'Diana' to her old friend's face. And she thinks she's got a pretty good shot at it, even as her friend turns, one hand going to her braid in surprise, and her eyes widen.

She still thinks she's got a pretty good shot at it, right up until she's opening her mouth to 'introduce herself' and Cheryl beats her to it with a single quiet word: "Cynthia?"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Okay. It's fine.

This is fine. Completely, and utterly, fine. So what if Cheryl recognized her on sight? It's fine. All she has to do is play dumb and not act like Cynthia is actually her name. She's going to play so dumb that a literal dumbell will have nothing on her.

She looks at Cheryl, and tries to look confused, and asks, "Cynthia? Haha, wow, I've... never heard of her! Is that some new kind of pokemon!"

Lunare gives her a look. And yeah, if even her pokemon thinks that was too far, that may have been a little bit too dumb.

"I'm sorry, what?" There's nothing but confusion in Cheryl's eyes as she looks at her. "No, you're— definitely Cynthia, aren't you...?"

Okay. New plan: play even dumber. "Noooo... Lunare, you've never heard of any Cynthia, have you??"

Her Drifloon looks even more unimpressed, which means she's almost certainly getting no help from that particular corner. "Flooooon..."

"I will be taking that as a yes," Cynthia decides, turning back to Cheryl. "Nope. No Cynthias here. I'm..." It takes her a second to remember. "Diana! Yes. Not Cynthia. Who are you?"

Now, the thing is, Cynthia is... not the greatest liar. Particularly not when put on the spot, as evidenced quite thoroughly by the events of the past few minutes. But in all the time she's known her, Cheryl has also been a bit on the gullible side, so Cynthia figures that will balance out and convince her old friend that this is definitely not her. Hopefully. Because—Cheryl deserves not to get mixed up in all this.

And she's not entirely wrong. She has managed to convince Cheryl of something. Just... not the something she necessarily wanted. As she watches, Cheryl's eyes narrow, and she throws a pokeball down with a cry of, "Chary, I need you!"

Cynthia freezes. She knows that nickname—and she knows that Gastrodon. "I'm... sorry? I don't really want a battle right now—"

"Oh, this isn't a battle," Cheryl says faintly. "It's—who are you, and what did you do to Cynthia?"

"Uh... nothing? What are you talking about?"

"I'd know my friend when I saw her. So if you're not her..." Cheryl takes a shaky breath. "Then get out! Chary, use M-Mud Bomb!"

In retrospect, maybe this wasn't such a good decision. She'd known Cheryl had been a bit... afraid of ghosts even before the incident in the Old Chateau, but to think—

Okay. Thinking can wait. Right now she'd rather not take a Mud Bomb to the face from her old Gastrodon. Fortunately, Chary seems to be doing nothing of the sort. Instead, she squelches from side to side and then forward, headbutting Cynthia's chest gently.

"Hi there, Charybdis," Cynthia says with a nervous laugh. "Good to see you too."

"Ro don," Chary agrees. She looks up at Lunare, cocks her head to one side, and asks, "Ga?"

"Dri floon," Lunare burbles in response, and—okay, yes, she's definitely laughing at Cynthia now.

That's... that's fair.

"W-what's going... on..." Cheryl whispers. "Chary, that's—that's not her—"

"It is, actually," Cynthia admits. "Sorry, Cheryl. I'm trying to be undercover and clearly that backfired... really badly. Thanks for not hitting me with a Mud Bomb, though, I appreciate that."

Chary blinks all three of her eyes at Cynthia slowly, headbutts her affectionately one final time, then returns to Cheryl, oozing up against her side. Dubiously, Cheryl reaches down a hand to pat the Gastrodon and says, "O... kay. So you're not some eldritch entity wearing Cynthia's body like a skinsuit?"

"...if I am, that's news to me too," Cynthia says. Behind her, there's a distinctly amused burble. She doesn't even turn to look at Lunare, she just mutters, "This really isn't as funny as you think it is, Lunare."

"Dri floo-oo-oon." Lunare laughs.

"Gaaastrodon," Chary agrees, looking distinctly amused herself.

Cynthia shakes her head. "Traitors, both of you."

"...right," Cheryl says slowly. She takes a deep breath. "Why are you undercover? And when did you get a Drifloon?"

She decides to answer Cheryl's second question first. "A day ago, at the Valley Windworks—Professor Rowan's been having me fill out the pokedex for him again, and apparently someone finally got around to adding Drifloon to it. Well, that someone's the new gym leader of Hearthome, but—"

"That nerd thing you were doing for him eight years ago? That you said you couldn't be paid to do again? Don't you have like... an actual full-time job as the champion now?" Cheryl raises an eyebrow. "Cyn, what's going on? Are you in some kind of trouble?"

"You could say that," Cynthia mutters. Maybe it's better to ease her into this. "There's a group called Team Galactic around—have you heard of them?"

Cheryl rolls her eyes. "I most certainly have. They fight trainers they think look weak and, if they win, they steal their pokemon... hence why I'm bringing Chary and Hope around with me for safety. I'm... um, helping out with the Eterna City center, they're going to have to loan their Chansey to Oreburgh soon so I'm training up this little one for them to borrow in the meantime." She pulls out another pokeball, and sends out the little pink pokemon within. "Say hello to my friend Cynthia, Happi!"

It's an adorable little Happiny, is what it is, and Cynthia couldn't keep herself from aww ing at it if she tried. She leans down to it and waves. "Hello, Happi!"

"Pini!!" The Happiny pokes her in the nose. 

Cynthia laughs, and pokes her right back before standing up. "Adorable little baby."

"I know," Cheryl says proudly, recalling the baby for now. "So... Team Galactic."

"They're going to do a lot more than just steal pokemon in the future." Cynthia's face falls just talking about it. "They're going to try to destroy the world, and remake it to be 'perfect.' Except their definition of perfect is a world without willpower, without emotion, without spirit."

Cheryl whistles. "Damn. What did the lake guardians ever do to them?"

"Other way around."

"I... do not like the way you're phrasing that—"

"It gets worse."

"It gets worse?!"

"There's... another version of me, another Cynthia, running around." Cynthia glances at her poketch and says, "Actually, she—I—might be in Eterna City right now, so I'm going to have to be really careful soon. But, uh..." She closes her eyes. "I'm from eleven—ten, really—months in the future. Team Galactic is going to try to destroy the world. I'm going to try to stop them, and I'm going to fail, and that's how I wound up here without any of my usual pokemon and... going by Diana instead."

"Oh," Cheryl says faintly. She looks down at her Gastrodon. "Chary, honey, I think she needs a hug way more than I do at the moment. Would you be a dear and...?"

Chary—Charybdis, really, though Cheryl had shortened the nickname and it had stuck—is already on her way. She slorps and squelches her way over, burying her face in Cynthia's chest with a distressed murmur of "Gaaaassss..."

Cynthia kneels down and wraps her arms around her old pokemon, squeezing tightly. It's— Palkia, Charybdis hasn't been her pokemon for years, but it's been over a month since she's seen any of her main team, and Chary always was the affectionate sort.

...which made her nickname of Charybdis rather hilarious, or would have if she wasn't nevertheless very good in battle. Cynthia blinks back tears, gives Chary one final hug, and stands up again.

"So... what can I do to help?" Cheryl says. "With Team Galactic, I mean—I figured they were just the annoying sort of pokemon thieves that would eventually get brought down by some freakishly strong ten-year-old or another, and you know I've never been... very good at battling..."

Cynthia gives her a look. "Bold words from someone who has eight badges to her name."

"And you know I would die immediately if I set one foot inside the Pokemon League," Cheryl says, only half-joking. She leans in to give Chary a hug herself, and continues, "Seriously, though... what can I do to help?"

Not that much, Cynthia is about to say, except that now that she thinks about it—Cheryl had been involved with the kids, hadn't she? She'd assumed that Dawn or Lucas must have gotten her onboard, but... evidently that was not the case.

"I'm not sure yet," Cynthia says. "For now... do you mind taking on the forest together? Just like old times?"

"Just like old times," Cheryl repeats, and smiles down at Chary. She recalls the pokemon, sending out her Happiny again, and says, uncertainly, "I'd love to, though I hope I won't be slowing you down—"

Cynthia smiles back. "You won't be. You never would be."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare

Traveling Medic Cheryl
Hope - Charybdis - Happi

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Eterna Forest is... a bit different than Cynthia remembers. Ostensibly, it's more or less the same. There's still the same kinds of pokemon that leap out of tall grass to take on her and Cheryl, there's still the same lighting or lack thereof that comes when sunlight is filtered through thick tree cover, there's still the same quiet noiselessness heavy over the forest, interrupted only by the faint scratching of wild pokemon here or there, and on occasion, the distant noises of pokemon battle. By and large, that hasn't changed. 

She's even with one of the same people, and Cheryl hasn't changed much appearance-wise. She's a little bit taller than she was—though Cynthia's a lot taller than she was when they met, and it's quite satisfying to have a few inches on her now. Still, Cynthia keeps expecting to see an older kid with blue hair just behind that next tree, speaking quietly with their Sneasel, a boy with spiked black hair with his ear pressed up to a tree and his hat held against his heart. 

It's just her and Cheryl, and the occasional pair of pokemon that leaps out at them. Between Lunare and Cheryl's Happiny, and Hope the Blissey stepping in every now and then to top both of their battling pokemon off, they do pretty well.

The forest is, either unfortunately or very fortunately, just as expansive as it had been years ago—and just as easy to get lost in, even when you're much more careful to stay together. It's also somewhat hard to carry on an actual conversation, or maybe that's nothing to do with the forest. Maybe that's just Cynthia not wanting to break the bad news about just who is leading Team Galactic in the first place to Cheryl of all people.

Wandering through the forest once more, taking on the odd pair of others in double battles here and there—and that's new, there hadn't been just regular people wandering around before—it's all too easy to fall back into those old familiar habits of their group. Except half the group is gone, one member far more permanently than the other.

It shouldn't come as the surprise it does when Cheryl murmurs, half to herself, "I miss them."

Cynthia supposes it's too much to hope she means plural they. She glances over. "Hm?"

"Cyrus," Cheryl clarifies. "Well, not just them, but just because I haven't talked to you in a while doesn't mean I'm a complete antisocial recluse. I talk to people, sometimes! I'd have talked to them if they were... still here."

"Mmm. Yeah." Has the pattern of sunlight dappling the leaves and forest floor below them always been this intricate? And—hang on, the light's reflecting off that in a way that doesn't look like leaves or ground. Cynthia kneels, brushing away the leaves, and picks up the thing left there. "Hey, someone dropped a potion here."

"Huh?" Cheryl looks over. "You should not use that. Not without double-checking it's still good first."

"Will do," Cynthia agrees, and tucks that in a separate pocket of her bag. 

Lunare burbles in the air beside her.

Cynthia sighs. "No, we're not testing this out on you."

For a creature whose eyes are little more than black pinpricks against a purple surface bearing a remarkable resemblance to a nonliving balloon, Lunare manages to do a rather remarkable impression of lillipup eyes. "Flooooo?"

"No."

Cheryl covers her mouth with a hand, her shoulders shaking in not-entirely-silent laughter. The Happiny held close by her other arm looks up at her questioningly, and Cheryl says, "I... can't say I'm the biggest fan of ghost-types, but I really like yours."

"You've made an exception for every ghost-type I've had," Cynthia points out.

"Not every ghost-type, not immediately. I know Banshee's a sweetheart now, but—"

"I think we all were kind of terrified of her originally."

"Kind of?" Cheryl snorts. "How was I supposed to react? I don't know how you weren't terrified."

"I was."

"Really? ...huh. You definitely could have fooled me."

"Floooon?" Lunare asks, looking to Happi.

"Pini," Happi says, shrugging as best she can while her trainer won't set her down anywhere near this forest, which isn't very well but the Happiny makes it work.

"Banshee's one of my old pokemon," Cynthia elaborates for Lunare's sake. "She—well, they, kind of, it's a bit complicated—is a Spiritomb."

Lunare stares at her blankly. "Floo?"

Cynthia makes a guess at what Lunare's thinking and says, "Most humans have never heard of one until they challenge me, you're fine."

"Floon. Drifloon." Lunare nods uncertainly, so she might have guessed right?

"You'll like her," Cynthia says. "...well, either that or you'll hate each other on sight, but I'm personally hoping that doesn't happen. I like you both."

"You're both spooky ghosts," Cheryl agrees. At her own words, she frowns, glancing quickly over her shoulder as if she expects something to be there. "Erm. In any case—she's a Drifloon, you said?"

Cynthia nods. "I'm pretty sure she evolves into something, but I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what. They're fairly rare. Only were added to the pokedex in the first place after our time."

"Huh." Cheryl waves at Lunare, who burbles and waves one of her strings back. "She is cute."

Now would probably not be a good time to mention the debatably accurate pokedex entry, even if Cheryl is no more a child these days than Cynthia herself is. Though... she sighs, and blinks hard. She's going to have to tell Cheryl sooner rather than later who the leader of Team Galactic is.

"Hey, Cheryl?" Cynthia says at last.

"Mmm?" Cheryl glances over. "What is it?"

Do you remember our friend who—

She torchics out. "Still thinking about what happened in the Chateau, huh?"

Cheryl visibly winces. "Impossible not to. The wild ghosts weren't even so bad, but that woman..."

Cynthia winces harder. This is actually something she wants to talk about even less than Cyrus, but she does manage to say, "At least she's dead now."

"Mhm. Are you doing alright?"

"Do... I need to explain the time travel thing again?" Cynthia shrugs. "I'm as alright as I have to be."

There's a long pause from Cheryl, and when Cynthia glances at her to see why, the other woman is studying her, biting her lip with an indescribable look in her forest-green eyes. "I... don't think you are, actually. But there's something else. Besides that. Isn't there?"

"You know me too well," Cynthia remarks. And yet, when she looks back at her friend, there's an impossibly sad look in her eyes.

"I'm not so sure I do, anymore," Cheryl whispers. 

And Cynthia stops in her tracks and stares. "What—what do you mean?"

Cheryl stops too. The Happiny in her arms squirms in displeasure from being held too tightly and, with a sigh, she sets the baby down with a whispered warning not to go too far. "I... well, it's..."

"Neary!"

"Bun-bun-bun!"

Both women nearly jump as a pair of wild pokemon make themselves known. Two Buneary, both looking incredibly cute as their species always does—but Cynthia is no fool. She knows just how much a given Buneary will despise the human foolish enough to capture it.

...but she kind of does need to capture one for pokedex purposes, and at that point it'll be Rowan's problem, not hers. 

It's with this in mind that she looks to Cheryl, an eyebrow raised in a wordless question. Cheryl smiles uncertainly, and nods. "Happi, go!"

"Lunare, you're up," Cynthia calls, and the Drifloon floats into position beside Cheryl's Happiny. "Let's start things off with a Gust, shall we?"

"Happi, set up a Light Screen," Cheryl says—and not a moment too soon, either, as both Buneary leap into the fray to attack the hapless Happiny with identical Pounds. Happi cries out, but manages to stay standing, and Cynthia's almost certain that... "Refresh!"

...Happi knows a move that can heal herself. Good. 

It's an almost familiar rhythm that they settle into here. Cheryl makes sure Happi isn't in any danger with Refresh, then steps in to boost Lunare's attacks with Helping Hand. Lunare—probably untargetable by every move those Buneary have going for them, actually—keeps whipping up winds with one of her two moves that will actually deal damage to the Buneary.

One goes down fast, leaping away and giving up on the fight. The other...

Well, the other keeps using Endure to power through attacks that should have made it flee or faint. The first time, Cynthia isn't too surprised.

The second time is a bit more of a surprise, and a bit annoying.

The third is a lot more annoying, and the fourth? By the time the fourth fades, Cynthia can't quite believe this wild Buneary's luck.

"Correct me if I'm wrong," Cheryl says slowly, "but doesn't Endure..."

"It's more likely to fail the more times you use it in a row," Cynthia replies, looking at the Buneary with something like grudging respect. "I don't know what the exact numbers are, but... that's really rare."

The Buneary looks her dead in the eyes, clenches its tiny little paws, and tries to use Endure one more time. This time, though, it fails. So the Buneary shrugs to itself, reaching into its fluff and pulling out— something that catches the light—

Is. Is that what Cynthia thinks it is?

"Is that a knife," Cheryl yelps. "How did you— what —how—"

"Dri flooon," Lunare says slowly.

The Buneary narrows its eyes and—correction, that's a switchblade, where in distortion did that Buneary get a switchblade from—and leaps upwards

The pokeball is sailing up and out of Cynthia's grasp before she's fully aware of it. It intercepts the Buneary midway up to Lunare, trapping the pokemon inside in a flash of red light, and lands on the ground, jiggling.

"I... did need to catch one for Professor Rowan anyway," Cynthia explains lamely, though she doesn't take her eyes off the ball. It jiggles once, as she watches.

"That thing has a knife," Cheryl says.

The ball jiggles a second time.

"...good point. I'm not sending this to him without a warning. But..." The ball jiggles a third time, and Cynthia holds her breath.

It stops moving.

She's somehow acquired a Buneary with a switchblade. There are some questions here that Cynthia won't exactly be getting answers to if she just sends the Buneary off to Professor Rowan at the first opportunity, and it would certainly be a challenge to train something that hates her and has a knife.

But since when has Cynthia ever turned down a challenge? She walks over, squatting to pick up the ball, and returns to Cheryl, looking at it thoughtfully.

"Cynthia," Cheryl says slowly, "please tell me you aren't—"

"I think I'll call her Milady," Cynthia declares, right as Cheryl’s Happiny starts to glow.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

Traveling Medic Cheryl
Hope - Charybdis - Happi

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Everything goes wrong pretty much the instant Cynthia sets foot into Eterna City, because of course it does, and apparently the entire universe has made its mission to make Cynthia's life for the next ten months even more miserable than it was already because of time travel. Cynthia had actually liked movies like Watchog Day before. She sure doesn't now, though that's a rather minor problem compared to this.

This being the person with spiked-up blue hair in the same weird uniform and vest they'd been wearing ten months from now, hands clasped behind their back as they walk towards the ancient statue on the edge of town. Cheryl, her newly-evolved Chansey still held in her arms, takes one look at them from behind and nearly drops her Chansey. 

Cynthia realizes, just a few moments too late, that she hadn't gotten the chance to tell Cheryl about them.

Well, no, that's not entirely accurate. She'd just torchicked out over and over again, until they'd made it out of the forest entirely.

I'm living in Eterna City now, Cheryl had said. I don't have much more to offer than a decently comfortable couch and instant ramen, but I'd feel a lot better if you spent the night at my apartment.

And really, how could Cynthia say no to that? Really, this is better than it could have been if Cheryl had run into them on her own.

Except it isn't, because now Cheryl is turning to her and asking, quiet but hopeful, "Is... could that be...?"

"No," Cynthia says quickly. Too quickly.

If Cheryl notices her discomfort, she ignores it entirely in favor of whispering, "I think it is them. It's—oh, gods, I'm going to hug them so hard—" She straightens up, returning her Chansey to cup her hands around her mouth, and she shouts, "Hey! Cy—"

Cynthia does the first thing she thinks of, which is slam one of her oldest friends up against the nearby building and put a hand over her mouth. "That's—" Cynthia sighs. "That is them, but it's not—we can't talk to them. Please—"

Cheryl's staring at her, eyes wide. "W-why not...?"

"Because—" Cynthia lowers her voice to a harsh whisper. No time to make this easier. No time for anything . "Because they're the leader of Team Galactic and they will recognize me if I talk to them. And I... don't know what they'd do to you if you recognized them."

"Oh," Cheryl says in a small voice, eyes wide. "That's... a problem, then, because they're coming this way."

Cynthia bites back a curse, resisting the urge to look over her shoulder. "How close."

"Close enough that... they'll be able to hear us soon."

There's one thing Cynthia knows she can do, one thing that will definitely make sure Cyrus overlooks them even if they recognize Cheryl. She takes Cheryl's hand in hers, leans in, and whispers, "I'm so sorry about this, please play along."

She leans in further, and—before she can second-guess herself, she can't risk Cyrus figuring her out—she presses her lips to Cheryl's. They're warm, just like Cheryl's hand in hers, and while logically speaking they look less suspicious if Cheryl kisses her back, realistically speaking, when Cheryl kisses her back Cynthia's pretty sure her brain stops functioning entirely. It's weird, it's strange, but it's—nice?

There's a vaguely disgusted noise from behind them, and then receding footsteps, and Cynthia isn't sure what it says about her that she has to make herself break away but she doesn't think it's anything good. 

"Sorry," she says again. "Are they—"

"Gone, yes," Cheryl says quietly. She closes her eyes. 

Cynthia reminds herself that this doesn't mean anything, that she was just playing along so that the literal leader of Team Galactic, who used to be their friend, didn't notice her. So that everything didn't go even more wrong than it already did.

"They're... the leader of Team Galactic," she repeats anyway. "And the reason that I'm stuck ten months in the past in the first place."

"And they're not dead."

Cynthia sighs. "No, they're not. And I wish I could be happy about that."

She wishes a lot of things. She wishes she had her old team with her, and while it's fun to grow attached to a new team of pokemon, she wishes she could at least be able to see them, to know they're doing okay without her—and they aren't without her, that's the worst part and the best part all at once. She wishes she'd known what words to say, a week after winning the championship, to keep the worst from coming to pass. She wishes she'd been a better friend—and not just to Cyrus.

"You've changed," Cheryl says. 

Her shoulders sag. "I know."

"I-I mean! That's not necessarily a bad thing, but..." Cheryl looks at her, again—maybe even looks through her. "You have changed."

"It's been years," Cynthia points out. "You haven't?"

"No, I... think I have too. I'm still not... super confident in battling, but—"

"You have eight badges, Cheryl, eight! Volkner is not an easy trainer to beat!"

"Isn't Aster a ground-type!"

"Yes, and at least one of his pokemon knew Ice Fang!"

"Ahhh." Cheryl nods slowly. "Still—I'm not the most confident, but I know I can handle things like Team Galactic, at least?"

"Please don't go looking for them."

Cheryl narrows her eyes. "Am I really the one you should be telling that to?"

No. "Yes! Because I literally can't go looking for them, or they will recognize me, you did, and that—"

"Would be bad, yes, I think I've gotten that much already." Cheryl happens to glance over Cynthia's shoulder, and—freezes. "Oh no."

"Cheryl, is that you?" Cynthia asks, except—it isn't her. She didn't say that, but she turns around, slowly, remembering far too late who else had been in Eterna around this time. Cynthia Prime is looking back, though she at least doesn't have any of her—of their—pokemon out at the moment.

She'd have a hard time fooling any of her pokemon. 

(She would not be able to fool Aster. Not for an instant. That, she knows.)

Cheryl blinks at the other her innocently. "Cynthia? Wow, hi, yes, it's been—a while!"

Fortunately for the sake of not causing a massive, horrible paradox, Cheryl seems to be Cynthia's superior in the art of lying to people. Not that being a better liar than Cynthia is hard, she knows her weaknesses and she knows that is very much one of them.

There's also the fact that she has never been particularly good at figuring out when other people are lying, either. Somehow, Prime's gaze passes over her, and- there's no recognition in the eyes she knows are hers.

"Hey, Cheryl," Prime says with a smile. She extends a hand to Cynthia. "Hello! I... don't believe we've met?"

"I'm, uh." Cynthia gulps. "Professor Rowan's assistant. Well, one of them. Hi..."

She trails off as it occurs to her, quite suddenly, that she remembers this. She remembers running into Cheryl in Eterna City, a couple weeks before she'd met Dawn and Barry for the first time. Her old friend hadn't been alone, then, either, but she hadn't paid much attention to the other woman with her, because...

...because she'd been actively trying not to think too hard about the panicky woman who had claimed to be one of the professor's assistants, because she'd been holding Cheryl's hand and she'd assumed that woman was Cheryl's girlfriend. Which, good for her and all, and it wasn't as if Cynthia had any business feeling anything but happiness for her old friend.

She looks down. She's still holding Cheryl's hand. She pulls away quickly, face coloring quickly. Her head hurts from trying to think about this.

"Nice to meet you," Prime says without looking at her. "I haven't seen you in... ages, Cheryl. How have you been?"

"Um," Cheryl says. "Good? Pretty busy though. There was... a cave-in?"

Prime blinks. "What?! Where??"

"Oreburgh Mine, i-it's fine now though, they got everyone out, we're just... on our way there to help out with... healing." Cheryl nods firmly. "Yes. Which you wouldn't be able to help very much with, sorry."

"Well, you're not wrong about that," Prime mutters reluctantly. Her gaze flicks over to Cynthia again, and—the worst part is that Cynthia knows exactly what she's thinking, and she'd honestly prefer a paradox to this. "Still, if there's anything I can do to help—"

"There isn't," Cheryl says with a surprising amount of bite to her words. "Go do, uh... champion things."

Prime nods. "Right. It was really nice seeing you!" She turns, walking off, back in the direction of where Cynthia knows she'll be staying for the next few weeks. 

"You too," Cheryl whispers to her retreating backside. It's only once Prime has turned the corner and is fully out of sight and out of earshot that she turns to Cynthia and says, suddenly, "We need to talk."

Cynthia sighs. "Yes... we definitely do."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

Traveling Medic Cheryl
Hope - Charybdis - Happi

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Cheryl's couch is, indeed, decently comfortable as promised. And, because Cynthia is a firm believer in not procrastinating except when it comes to gym battles and difficult conversations, she decides that while Cheryl is running to the pokemart because she's out of instant ramen is a great time to get to know her newest pokemon.

Milady the Buneary emerges from her pokeball on the other end of Cheryl's couch, arms crossed and stubbornly looking away, and—much to Cynthia's relief—without a knife in sight.

"Hello," she tries, and the Buneary whirls around, pulling the knife out of her floof with a hiss and hopping up onto the couch arm. "Whoa—hey, it's... it's okay, I'm not going to hurt you."

"Neary," Milady says dubiously. She swings the switchblade around to point at Cynthia, which is intimidating enough from a good four feet away.

Lacking any better way to respond, Cynthia tries, "That's... a cool knife you've got there?"

Milady blinks in visible confusion. "Bun?" She peers closer at the switchblade, visibly frowning.

Now, the ideal thing to do here would probably be to just... disarm the Buneary. But also, as long as she doesn't stab Cynthia or anyone she cares about, does it really matter if her Buneary has a knife?

The issue is, of course, making sure Milady won't stab her.

"I've got one too," Cynthia says instead of anything more appropriate. "Would you like to see it?"

The Buneary looks even more confused. Slowly, she nods.

"Alright." Cynthia reaches into her coat pocket and pulls it out. "Here's mine. It's just a pocket knife, really, but I do keep it sharp for... emergencies. What do you think?"

Milady scampers a bit closer, sniffs at it, and then sniffs at her own knife. She squints at Cynthia suspiciously. "Bun?"

"Well... yes, yours would be a bit dirty, I imagine you didn't just get... handed a switchblade," Cynthia says. "And I have a few questions for if that is the case—"

"Bu-un." Milady shakes her head, scampers backwards on the couch, and taps at her knife's blade. "Bun..."

It is a bit rusty, Cynthia thinks. And then Milady turns it over and oh dear Palkia the underside is covered in rust. Cynthia's jaw drops and she mutters, "Well, you won't be cutting things for much longer with that."

Alarm fills the Buneary's gaze, and she points it at Cynthia again from a safe distance. "B-bun???"

"That reddish stuff? That's rust," Cynthia explains. "If you don't take care of that, it'll not only look bad—which I imagine is probably not your highest priority, but it is one of mine—but I've been told it can destroy your knife completely, eventually."

"BUNEARY!"

"Yes, well, fortunately, I know a trick to deal with that." Giving the little pokemon a smile, Cynthia gets up off the couch. She puts her own knife away for the moment and holds out a hand. "If you'll just..."

"Buuun." Milady shakes her head stubbornly, holding the knife closer.

"Alright, I'll show you what to do and I won't lay a finger on it," Cynthia concedes. "...I hope Cheryl has vinegar somewhere."

Fortunately, Cynthia is able to find the vinegar without too much trouble, and a shallow tray to put said vinegar in. She sets the tray down on the floor, so Milady can reach it easily—she's quite certain the Buneary could get up to the countertop if she tried, but she isn't sure if Cheryl will want a Buneary on her kitchen counter so... better safe than sorry.

"Alright," Cynthia says, crouching down to Milady's level. "Would you like to do the honors, Milady?"

The Buneary blinks in confusion.

"Ah, right—I don't really want to just call you Buneary, and I thought Milady might be a fitting one for you," she elaborates after a moment. "If you'd rather have something else, that's fine, but Milady properly conveys the... respect you deserve?"

Milady considers this, cocking her head to the side. Eventually she shrugs, draws her knife once more—when had she put it away?—and pokes at the vinegar in the tray with the blade.

"Alright," Cynthia says. "What you need to do is just... lay that down in the tray, make sure the blade is completely submerged..."

Frowning at the vinegar, Milady reaches down to place it in—and leaps back with a surprised yelp. "Buun!"

"...well, it was in the fridge," Cynthia says speculatively. "I'd be surprised if it wasn't cold."

Milady gives her an accusatory look, crossing her arms over her chest. "Buuuuun." She doesn't seem inclined to get any distance away from her knife that she can't quickly grab it again, if she needs to.

That's... fine. Cynthia had a pretty good idea of what she was getting into here. Though the entire rusty switchblade was a surprise.

"Well," Cynthia clears her throat awkwardly. "Now, we wait. Five minutes, though—that would be closer to four now. Any more than five minutes, and it'll risk damaging it further."

"Buuuun." Milady flops down onto the floor impatiently. "Bun-bun?"

Cynthia glances at her poketch. "Let's see, it's... just after 5:30 now, so at 5:34 we'll take it out."

The Buneary nods, but still looks at her expectantly.

"Do you... want something?"

"Buuuun."

"...alright, well, I can't understand you, I'm afraid." Cynthia shrugs. "Not that we can't work around that, but—"

"Bun! Buneary!" Milady leaps to her feet. In one powerful bound, she leaps clear over the tray of vinegar, and jabs a single furry digit at Cynthia's face. "Buuuuun!"

Cynthia blinks. "Are you asking... oh. I never introduced myself properly, did I?"

"Buuuun..." In another leap, she returns to where she was and flops back down on the floor again. She settles her hands in her lap in a mimicry of Cynthia's. "Bun?"

"Well, my name's Cynthia," she says. "Though I'm undercover around... anyone except Cheryl and Professor Rowan, who you will probably not meet for a while given that he would take one look at your knife and... he wouldn't handle it well, that's for sure. Erm, as far as other people are concerned, my name is Diana and I have no relation whatsoever to a woman who looks a lot like me named Cynthia."

"Neary??" The look of sheer confusion is back on.

Cynthia sighs. "An old friend of mine tried to destroy the world by doing... something? To both Dialga and Palkia—"

"BUNEARY?!?" Visibly startled, Milady reaches for her knife, only to slip and trip on the tiled floor. She hits the floor in a heap with an indignant squeak, and sits up again, rubbing her head with a scowl.

"...are you okay?" Cynthia asks.

Milady nods firmly. She gestures for Cynthia to continue—at least, Cynthia's reasonably certain that would have to be what she means here. She glances down at her poketch clock—5:33—and says, "The short version is that they tried to destroy the world, the literal gods were involved, and by getting in the middle of it, I was sent a year in the past without any of my old pokemon. Hence why I'm telling this to you now."

"Neary..." The Buneary shakes her head, indicates the knife, and cocks her head to the side.

Her sense of timing must be better than Cynthia's, because the clock ticks over to 5:34 as Cynthia looks at it. "Yes, it's time. Go ahead and take it out, I'll grab some paper towels."

And Cynthia does so, ripping off two or three sheets from the roll on the countertop before returning to Milady, and offering one to her. "Alright. Now, we—well, you—hold the knife by the handle, and wipe off the blade as hard as you can with these."

Milady cocks up an eyebrow. "Bun??"

"It'll work," Cynthia promises. "At least a little bit. If that doesn't get it all the way off, I know there's something you can do with baking soda..." She trails off as Milady starts scrubbing, and the rust on the knife starts to wipe away. The Buneary lets out an excited cry, and keeps scrubbing.

The knife is far from being shiny, when she's done, but it's clean, it's not rusty, and it looks sharp enough that it shouldn't be unnecessarily dangerous. Cynthia gives a nod. "I think you're good."

Milady lets out an excited cry, sheathes the switchblade, and hugs it to her body, giving a little twirl. Of all the things Cynthia had expected out of a Buneary with a knife, a little pokemon with a rather sharp comfort item wasn't necessarily one of them, but she can work with this.

"Do you like battling?" Cynthia asks, after a moment. She gets a rather enthusiastic nod. "I feel like a knife might not be allowed under normal circumstances, but... there's one particular move that I believe Buneary like you can learn, and they have to either have sharp claws or find something to use for it."

"Neary...?"

"If I remember correctly, the leader of the Eterna Gym gives TMs for that move out these days," Cynthia says thoughtfully. "I'll need to ask you to keep the knife away until we get that TM, but in the meantime... you fancy doing some battling tomorrow?"

The Buneary just grins —right as the front door to Cheryl's apartment opens, and Cynthia remembers that she's on the floor of someone else's apartment talking to a Buneary with a knife. Cheryl's apartment, no less, which kind of makes it worse.

"Hello," Cynthia says eloquently as Cheryl catches sight of the scene in her kitchen. "We'll clean up, don't worry."

"O... kay," Cheryl says, setting down a grocery bag on the counter with a small yet audible ringing noise . "You're really serious about training our little knife Buneary, huh."

"Why wouldn't I be?" Cynthia says, except when she looks back at Milady the pokemon's fur is bristling, she's retrieved her knife and is pointing it at Cheryl. "Milady, that's Cheryl, please don't attack her, I like her."

Milady turns her knife on Cynthia instead with an audible hiss. Cynthia sighs, goes for the pokeball, and recalls her for now. "We made... decent progress today, I think."

Cheryl looks incredibly dubious. "Cynthia... you know that Buneary are not friendly in the slightest when you first catch them, right?"

"I'd hope I do, I filled out a pokedex once and I'm filling out another one," Cynthia remarks.

"And so you decided... to catch and train one... with a knife..."

"It makes her feel safe," Cynthia says matter-of-factly.

She's pretty sure the resulting facepalm from Cheryl could be heard all the way in Floaroma Town. Cheryl sighs, and reaches into the bag, and pulls out a little silver bell with a red ribbon. "Why don't you give this to her next time you send her out?"

"That... doesn't sound like a request," Cynthia notes. But she does take the Soothe Bell nonetheless, putting it into her own bag. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Cheryl says. And for a moment, it sounds like she's about to say something else, but she glances at the rest of the unpacked grocery bag and thinks better of it.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"Alright! Eterna Gym, here we are," Cheryl proclaims, spreading her arms wide. "Not that you needed me to tell you that, of course—"

"Cheryl—"

"And I doubt you'll have any trouble with the gym, of course, you being you, so I'll just let you go here—"

"Cheryl—"

"Though do let me know if you need anything? I know you can't use your poketch but if there's... anything I can do to help...!"

"CHERYL!"  

The woman in question nearly jumps a foot in the air. "Yes, hi, sorry, what—"

"We need to talk," Cynthia says urgently. "And I don't really want to put off the gym but if you're leaving, we need to have this conversation now."

"I..." Cheryl sighs deeply. "Alright. What do you want to talk about?"

"What do I- Azelf, grant me patience, there's been something you've almost brought up several times now and just didn't. I want to talk about that."

"...ah," Cheryl says. She looks away, frowning. "Well. I didn't really want to bring this up, but..."

"Please."

Cheryl takes a deep breath. She lets it out. "Cynthia. Before yesterday, when was the last time we'd talked to each other?"

The fact that Cynthia has to think about it doesn't exactly bode well. "Over text or in person?"

"Either or."

"In person... has definitely been a while," Cynthia admits. "The last time I can remember was about a month after I won the title, but that can't be right, I know I've texted you since then...?"

She checks her poketch, opening the texts application immediately. It's all kinds of weird at the moment due to, well, the time travel, but anything before the day she'd been thrust a year into the past is completely intact. She scrolls a bit, looking for Cheryl's name, expecting it to be within one year or at worst, two.

"Five years," Cheryl says as Cynthia finds her texts with her at last and her eyes widen with horror. "It would have been six for you in the future, if I'm doing my math right."

Cheryl's isn't the only name that far down. Right below hers is that of another old friend she hasn't talked to in... far too long, apparently, and just below that... Cyrus. The last text to them had been from her, begging them to please, please respond.

They never had. (And they'd been alive after all this whole time.)

"Oh," Cynthia says, because what is she supposed to say to that?

"Traveling around Sinnoh with you was fun, but... then Cyrus died, or so we all thought, and you just... I assumed you must have been really busy with your new title, but you just... never responded. So I tried to go see you at the Pokemon League, but..." Cheryl grimaces. "I've made it past Aaron exactly once and Bertha put an end to that. So I guess I just assumed... you'd forgotten about us, about me." She raises her gaze to Cynthia's and says, "That you'd moved on. Maybe I should have just played along back in Eterna and pretended you weren't obviously lying."

Her breath catches in her throat. "No, Cheryl, you... I'm glad you didn't."

"Why?" Cheryl asks. "You're just going to leave me behind again, aren't you, once all this is over?"

"N-no, I—"

"What about your new pokemon? If you've got a completely different trainer card, you'll hardly be able to use them under your own name. Are you just going to leave them behind, too?"

Cynthia's eyes widen. "...I will admit I hadn't thought that far, but I'm sure there's something I can do. As far as the Pokemon League is concerned, I have to use the same team when defending my title that I used to get it in the first place, but outside of that, there's nothing stopping me from—"

"Alright, you've got a plan for that," Cheryl concedes. "But... Cynthia, can you look me in the eyes and tell me that it won't just be back to normal, when this is over? That you won't just... leave me, and anyone else who helps you, behind again?"

"I-I—"

"Am I interrupting something?"

Cynthia freezes. She turns, slowly, to see the local gym leader awkwardly poking her head out of the door. Gardenia offers them both a sheepish grin and says, "Sorry, sorry—I, uh... if neither of you are here for a gym battle..."

"I am," Cynthia says at the same instant Cheryl stammers, "She is!"

"Oh!" Gardenia blinks. "Good, that's... that's good. Erm, alright, in my gym you do have to take on every one of my gym trainers before you reach me, because they're getting bored and it's good experience for you and for them as well... how many badges do you have already..." She trails off, looking meaningfully at Cynthia.

"Diana," Cynthia says. "Just Oreburgh's."

"I've already got the Forest Badge," Cheryl supplies. "Though it... has been quite a while..."

Gardenia laughs lightly, shaking her head. "Oh, don't worry, so long as you have eight badges from gyms that were officially recognized at some point in time in Sinnoh, that's good enough to challenge the League."

Cheryl looks down. "I... I know."

"So this will be your second badge..." Gardenia smiles. "Well, Diana? Don't keep me waiting too long, alright?" She winks, and with a wave of her arm and a flutter of her cloak as she spins on her heel, she's returned inside.

"...you know what's kind of sad?" Cynthia says quietly, eyes only upon the door. "I've actually battled her before, and yet Roark came closer to recognizing me than she did."

"O-oh." Cheryl blinks. "Roark is... the new Oreburgh leader?"

"Yes. Byron's son, took over from his dad when his dad moved out to Canalave, when, you know..."

"Ah! Right. So... no one else will ever be getting the Rush Badge now, will they?" Cheryl looks a little sad at the prospect.

Cynthia shrugs. "Badges are tied to gym leaders, not the gyms themselves—usually, I'm reasonably certain that there's a gym in Kanto..." She clears her throat. "If the leader we both fought ever takes charge of a gym again, and wants to reinstate the Rush Badge, he'd be well within his rights to. Or he could start completely fresh, if he wanted to... say, use a different type."

"Ah." Cheryl blinks hard. "Well, i-in that case..." She takes a step backwards, away from the gym, then looks at Cynthia uncertainly. "Please... give me a reason to stay?"

Cynthia swallows nervously. "Cheryl, I... I can't promise that I won't mess up. But I... I'll do my best. I think..." She trails off. Excuses are not what Cheryl wants here. Instead, she blurts, "Come watch my gym battle?"

"W-what?"

"Just... give me some time to think," Cynthia says. "Because I don't want to leave you behind again. I didn't the first time, I just... got too busy and never made the time to reach out again." She reaches out to take Cheryl's hands in her own and says, firmly. "Cheryl, I... I want to try. If it doesn't work, then oh well, but I want to try."

Cheryl's eyes catch the midmorning sunlight, and she nods. "I'll think about it," she whispers.

Cynthia smiles. Something warm and wet prickles at the edge of her eyes. "That's all I'm asking," she replies, and she doesn't wipe her eyes until she's turned away to the gym doors.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

The smile Gardenia is wearing when Cynthia finally approaches her platform at the back of the gym building is reminiscent of a world-weary sunbeam. And yet she says, in a voice that almost seems to be nothing out of the ordinary, "Aww, you kept me waiting!"

Cynthia gives her a look. "If you expected me to leap right into a battle with you without making a center run first, you're extremely mistaken."

"Oh, a smart one." Gardenia laughs. "You know, you're going to have to take on five trainers in a row if you make it to the Pokemon League. Don't you want the practice?"

Cynthia, who happens to know this fact very well from experience on both sides, shakes her head. "It wouldn't be good practice anyway. The Elite Four all specialize in different types and I—" She catches sight of Cheryl frantically shaking her head. "I-I, um, don't think the Champion has a specialty?"

"Fair enough, I see you've done your research." Gardenia's smile is a bit more genuine as she draws out her first pokeball. "This is your second gym, so... I'll use three pokemon, you can use up to three, no substitutions, yada yada yada, this is your second gym so you should know the drill by now, unless you've got any questions? We've got the thyme, but I really would like to get to the battle?"

Cynthia blinks. Gardenia might be one of... three current Sinnoh gym leaders that were around the first time, but she'd only just taken over the gym back then, and it's definitely changed since then. Technically, gym leaders are allowed to do whatever they want with their gym puzzles, but this one was... definitely far more complicated than the 'puzzle' Gardenia had in the past, and there's far more battling involved now.

"Um, yes," Cynthia says eloquently. She finds Milady's pokeball. Current plan is to let Milady do what she can, then switch to Lunare for the rest. If Lunare goes down... well, neither Maelstrom nor Corundum will be in great shape for a gym full of grass-types, but Maelstrom at least knows a move that'll be effective. If worst comes to worst, he can finish Gardenia's pokemon off.

(Or she could lose, but... Cynthia's gaze finds Cheryl, sitting off to the side with her recently evolved Chansey in her lap, and she knows she cannot lose.)

"In that case..." Gardenia throws down her pokeball, at the same time as Cynthia does. "Mint, let's grow!"

"Milady? You're up," Cynthia calls, and her Buneary emerges opposite a very large Turtwig. "Let's use—"

The Buneary turns and gives her a look, the Soothe Bell from Cheryl jingling where it's tied around her wrist . Cynthia sighs and says, "...Frustration?"

"Reflect," Gardenia calls, and her Turtwig calls up a metaphysical shield just in time to keep Milady from hitting as hard as she could. She still hits hard, though, and Gardenia raises an eyebrow before going, "I hope that Buneary of yours is freshly caught, otherwise..."

"She is," Cynthia clarifies. "Otherwise I'd be just as concerned. We're... working on that."

Milady spins around to hiss at her, though at least she doesn't take out the knife. That's probably a good thing. There's technically no rules against that, like she said, but also Cynthia gets the feeling Gardenia might not appreciate her pokemon pulling a knife on another.

"Frustration again," Cynthia calls, and the Buneary rolls her eyes but obliges. The Turtwig staggers, but—doesn't yet fall. Not quite. Not yet.

"Sunny Day!"

That's... not a good sign. Either Gardenia has a pokemon that knows Solar Beam—which she shouldn't, not at this level, maybe at a four-badge fight but not a one-badge one—or... a Cherrim? Maybe?

Either way, that's not a good sign. 

"Quick Attack," Cynthia calls, and the Turtwig is down. Milady shakes out her fur as Gardenia recalls her first pokemon, scuffing her feet against the debatably earthy floor as Gardenia hums to herself speculatively, then tosses another pokeball.

"Aroma, let's grow," Gardenia calls, and out comes—yes, that's a Cherrim. A Cherrim that is initially hidden behind its petals, but catches sight of the sunlight streaming down thanks to Turtwig's move and shakes out its petals with a happy cry.

A Cherrim that... either is a bit too strong for this level of gym battles, or evolved early. Too early. A subtle look at her pokedex confirms it—which brings to mind the same questions for Cynthia that Milady using Frustration did for Gardenia.

Stress evolutions are... not great for the pokemon involved. They occur, as is somewhat evident from the name, when the pokemon is afraid for its life—or for that of its trainer. The second case is uncommon, but it does happen, and in that case, so long as the pokemon is given the appropriate love and support, they'll be fine.

The first case, however... in isolation, it could mean nothing. And, given what Cynthia knows of Gardenia—she has at least one Roserade, and one does not evolve a Budew into a Roselia without being good to your pokemon—it most likely is nothing.

Still, her apprehension must show on her face, and Gardenia sighs. "I'm going to take a wild guess that your pokedex says she evolved prematurely?"

"Well, no, but—" Actually, given that Cynthia doesn't own a Cherubi or a Cherrim, she shouldn't know. She nods instead.

Gardenia once again sighs. "Long story involving several ghosts, a haunted mansion in the forest, and— ohhh, I hate ghosts, I'm sorry, I know all pokemon are lovely really but they just...!"

Cynthia nods. "You don't have to explain." Not to Diana the challenger, anyway. Cynthia the champion might need to know more details, but given that it sounds like Gardenia has had this problem with nearly every challenger with a pokedex from the exhausted look she and her Cherrim are exchanging...

"Great! In that case, Aroma, let's plant ourselves a Leech Seed, shall we?"

"Milady, watch—" Okay, nope, not dodging that. "Frustration!"

With a tiny scowl on her face that she fires back at Cynthia, Milady does indeed look very, very frustrated as she tackles the Cherrim bodily. But the Reflect that Gardenia's Turtwig had set up kicks in, and Milady's attack does... nearly nothing.

Great. Even greater is the panicked noise that Milady makes when vines erupt from the earth below her, trapping her for a moment and draining some of her energy right back to the Cherrim.

In fact, that Cherrim looks positively unscathed, now.

"This isn't going to work," Cynthia realizes. "Milady, return."

"You won't be able to send her back out later, you know," Gardenia notes, a bit too late.

"I know." Cynthia holds the pokeball close and whispers, "You did well. We'll get you that TM yet."

"...TM?" Gardenia looks a little confused. "Uh, I give two out to successful challengers, usually—Grass Knot and Cut. Whoever told you about that must have had outdated information or something."

In Cynthia's defense, it's been several years since she challenged the Eterna Gym last, and Gardenia has changed up her gym quite a bit since then.

"Talking about Cut," Cynthia clarifies, thinking to herself before pulling out Lunare's pokeball. Given what Gardenia had just shared about ghost-types, this may not be the best idea, but any other option isn't likely to end in a victory for her.

"Cut... Buneary can learn Cut?" Gardenia looks a bit confused. "But what would it cut with, claws?"

"...if you're still curious, ask me after the battle is over," Cynthia says at last, hoping Gardenia will forget entirely so she doesn't have to explain that her Buneary normally carries around a knife and it took a sizable amount of berry-related bribery to convince her not to use it today. "And I'm sorry about this, but... Lunare, go!"

"Flooon!" Lunare bobs up and down on the battlefield, looking very excited.

"Sorry? Why?" Gardenia puts her hands on her hips. "That's a... flying-type, right? It's the challenger's job to win, though? And anyway, I'm not allowed to use any of my really fun strategies against challengers yet. Come back with like... five or six badges, then it'll get really fun."

"If I don't win here, maybe I will," Cynthia says. "But I should warn you, she is a ghost-type."

"WHAT?"

"Ghost-flying," Cynthia clarifies. "I can use a different pokemon if it won't be alright with you, though—"

"Oh! Well, thanks, but..." Gardenia shakes her head. "That one can stay. She looks polite."

Lunare takes the compliment with a happy cry of "Dri!"

"Anyway, um..." Gardenia clears her throat. "Aroma, Leech Seed, one more time!"

Cynthia bites back a vaguely blasphemous comment involving the gods of time and space (though, personally, she thinks at this point she deserves a little blasphemy. She did get thrown back in time. And now she's taking the gym challenge a second time.)

"Lunare, Gust," Cynthia calls, and Lunare is all too happy to oblige. The shield that Gardenia's Turtwig put up flares up in defense, but it fails for the same reason that Barry using Growl over and over hadn't done a thing to stop Bubble.

The Cherrim isn't taken out in a single attack, to her credit. But Cynthia is willing to bet, based on the way Aroma shakily gets back up to her little feet and dusts herself off, that one more will be enough.

"Hmm. That's not going to weigh a lot, so Grass Knot is out," Gardenia says thoughtfully. "Aroma, Magical Leaf. Do what you can, and know that I'm still rooting for you, no matter what!"

Aroma the Cherrim leaps into the air with a cry, summoning faintly glowing leaves from nowhere to hurl them at Lunare. It's... not very effective. But it does a fair amount of damage, before a final Gust from Lunare puts an end to Aroma's part in this battle.

"Hey, not bad!" Gardenia calls. "But it's not the end yet. Bloom, let's grow!"

And there's a Roserade. Cynthia has her suspicions that Gardenia has one for every badge level as well as on her personal team, and that's only supported by the recollection that whatever the Roserade she'd fought before had been nicknamed, Bloom wasn't it.

"Gust!" Cynthia calls. "You can do this!"

"Not so fast— Stun Spore!"

Ah. That's... not great. Cynthia winces as the yellow spores quite literally spark paralysis in her pokemon, and winces harder when the Leech Seed Gardenia's last pokemon had set up proves to be very much still in effect.

But, at this level, Gardenia's Roserade almost certainly doesn't know a single super effective move. Which means she has to rely on whittling Lunare's health down, a little bit at a time.

Lunare, on the other hand... one more solid hit and it will all be over. Perhaps not immediately over, but Maelstrom will get one, maybe two hits in before Gardenia's Roserade takes him down. And then, it will be Cynthia's first loss in... years, she thinks.

It's strangely fitting, in a way, that if she does lose here it won't even be attributed to her.

But she has no intention of losing. 

"Lunare," Cynthia calls. "I know you can do this. We just need a little more..."

The Drifloon burbles sadly, and makes an attempt at another Gust, but it fizzles out mid-move. Sparks crackle across her body, and she makes a distressed noise. Cynthia grimaces.

"It's okay," she says.

(It's not okay.)

"You can do this," she says.

(Can she do this?)

"Bloom, keep at it with Magical Leaf," Gardenia orders. "And then we'll see what your third pokemon is, hmm, Diana?"

"Gust," Cynthia says. "You can do this. And after we win, we'll... okay, I need a bike to get to Hearthome from here, but once we've made it to Hearthome, I will—alright, I'm not the greatest at making poffins but I will make an attempt with any berry you like, just for you."

Lunare perks up at the mention of poffins—unsurprisingly, she had seemed a bit acclimated to humans even before Cynthia caught her—and manages, barely, a Gust. The Roserade goes down.

The Roserade gets back up again, unsteady until it pulls out a berry and starts to eat it. From the glimpse Cynthia catches of it—yellow, lumpy—she'd guess a Sitrus Berry.

The Roserade is no longer at all unsteady. Meanwhile, Lunare is metaphorically on her last legs. (Literally, she doesn't have legs to begin with.)

"Are you serious," Cynthia mutters, because okay, THAT's new.

Gardenia beams, practically bouncing on her feet. "Oh, Bloom, I love this part, don't you?"

"Roserade," Bloom agrees.

"The part when an unprepared challenger thinks victory is within their grasp... and then."

"I thought healing items weren't allowed in league battles," Cynthia says—because they're not. Held items, on the other hand... Gardenia technically isn't doing anything wrong. Held items are allowed—and while most manmade healing items are poke-proofed, berries, unfortunately, are not.

"Oh, they're not." Gardenia's grin turns smug. "That's just a berry my pokemon happened to pick up somewhere. You could have done the same, if you thought ahead."

"Lunare," Cynthia says. "Please."

And Lunare tries. Oh, does Lunare try. But paralysis is a fiend at the best of times, and luck does not seem to be on Lunare's side. One Gust misses, then two, then three.

Magical Leaf, meanwhile, literally can't miss. So even with it being not particularly effective... all those attacks add up.

"Please," Cynthia says at the last second—less to Lunare than to the world in general. It's not Lunare's fault, she's trying her best. And it's not Cynthia's, either—she still does have one final pokemon, though it's dubious whether that will do any good.

Sometimes, you just get unlucky, and others get lucky.

(She wishes Cyrus had accepted that, before.)

Lunare makes one last attempt—and Gust hits. Gardenia's Roserade falls, and doesn't pull another berry out of nowhere.

The Roserade falls, and doesn't get back up. It occurs to Cynthia, slightly late, that Gardenia's must have the same ability that hers has... or had, or will have once she gets her and the rest of her pokemon back. Otherwise, she's pretty sure that Lunare would have been poisoned in addition to being paralyzed by now, and that...

That would just be cruel. Clearly Gardenia has some mercy. Indeed, she doesn't look at all put out by her loss, instead practically bouncing on her feet as she recalls her fallen pokemon and holds out a shiny new badge and a pair of TMs.

"Congratulations," Gardenia says. "To both you and your pokemon—you trusted in each other, and you pulled through. Though I am curious, what was your third pokemon going to be?"

Cynthia takes the offered spoils, putting them into her bag for now. "I have a Prinplup and a Geodude."

Gardenia winces sympathetically. "Ahh. I see why you were so insistent on keeping this cutie in, then. Hey, hope you feel better soon, alright? Make sure your trainer takes you riiight to the pokemon center, got it?"

Lunare burbles a slightly weary farewell as Cynthia recalls her, and then returns her attention to Gardenia. "She is a ghost-type, you know."

"Like I said: that one can stay. That one can be an honorary..." Gardenia hums to herself speculatively. "Grass-Flying type. Though, hey, can't Prinplup learn Peck?"

Cynthia nods. "Backup plan."

"I see. And of course, you didn't want to look bad in front of your girlfriend!"

"My what."

"Hey, Diana," Cheryl says, waving. Her Chansey waddles along beside her as she approaches. "Very good battle, I see you haven't lost any of your touch, but... can... we talk? Outside?"

"Yes," Cynthia says firmly. "Nice battling you, Gardenia."

Gardenia nods. "Nice meeting you too. Hey, I think—I think you should keep at gyms, alright, Diana? You've got this look in your eyes. It reminds me of—well, listen, our current champion? I think you'd have a good shot at beating her, if you kept at it."

"That's... thanks?"  

Well. The good news is that Gardenia doesn't recognize her... but at what cost? Still, Cynthia manages a vaguely grateful expression as she and Cheryl walk out the gym doors, and then?

Then, it's time to... figure things out. Neither of them have the excuse of being dumb teenagers anymore. And... Cynthia would be lying if she said that being busy was all it was.

But...

She missed Cheryl. She really, really did. So maybe, just maybe... they can make things work this time.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

There's a very old statue in the northeast of Eterna City, meant to be a combination of both Dialga and Palkia to revere them both. Now that Cynthia has literally seen them both in person, and has more to go off of than just ancient texts and the occasional surviving illustration, she can better identify which parts of the statue were from which legendary pokemon. The 'wings' are definitely Palkia, while the head looks to be almost entirely Dialga, and while the academic consensus had been that both Dialga and Palkia were quadrupedal, Cynthia distinctly remembers Palkia being bipedal which means that the fact that the statue is quadrupedal is something taken solely from Dialga.

It probably would count as blasphemy to bring a camera with her to the Spear Pillar solely to prove that Palkia stands on two feet and not four. But Cynthia's gone to similar lengths to prove her point before, and given her current situation, the least the gods can do is help her win a few arguments after all this is over.

But this isn't over yet, not even close. Ten months remain before Cyrus will try to destroy the world, and this time, Cynthia has to stop them.

Absently, she runs a hand along the old plaque at the statue's base, only to realize—wait, it's still here. On her last day in Eterna, which would be... around a week from now, she'd gone to take a look at the statue for old time's sake, only to realize that someone had stolen it. No one had any idea of who stole it, naturally, and while Cynthia had been suspicious of Team Galactic being responsible, when she knocked on the door of their building to the north of the city, the complex was deserted.

In retrospect, though, she's almost certain that it will be Team Galactic that steals the plaque.

...unless. Unless someone else steals it first.

"Cheryl," Cynthia says suddenly, "does it count as stealing if it's for a good cause?"

"Yes?? Why would you..." Cheryl sighs. "Whatever you're thinking, please don't, it is almost certainly a bad idea."

"Team Galactic is going to steal this in... sometime between now and next Monday." Cynthia taps the plaque meaningfully. "They will determine what the inscriptions originally said and then, most likely, throw this valuable piece of history into the trash."

"So... what are you suggesting, that we steal it first?" Cheryl asks. She pauses, taking in the look on Cynthia's face. "...you are suggesting that."

"Well, not right now, obviously. And..." Cynthia glances around. "I figured here would most likely be more private than right in front of the gym, and... we really do need to talk or we're never going to, and I don't want that."

Cheryl nods. "Me neither. So... can you promise... that you won't leave me behind again?"

"I can promise I'll try," Cynthia says. "But... you can text me too, you know. I promise I'm not ignoring you, if I don't respond for a while. I most likely got busy and forgot, and... it's very easy to get busy." She sighs. "I might be too busy, actually."

"Might be?" Cheryl raises an eyebrow. "You were too busy back when we were traveling around Sinnoh. The first time, that is. If there's a level higher than too busy, you've found it."

"I..." Cynthia sighs. "I'm not even going to try to deny that. But... I missed you. You mean a lot to me and I really do enjoy spending time with you, and I'd hate to lose that."

Cheryl nods. "Yeah... yeah, me too. So..."

"So..."

"What do we do now?"

"Short-term, there are some kids I've been keeping an eye on that are taking the gym challenge themselves and I think they'll be making it to Eterna Forest... soon. And if we were any indication, trying to keep them out of trouble entirely won't work so the best thing we can do is make sure that they don't come out of it as traumatized as we were. More long term, stop Team Galactic, pick up where I left off, attempt to be less of a workaholic?"

Cheryl looks at her for a bit. She snorts. "Once the momfriend, always the momfriend."

"And the plaque." Cynthia looks back at it thoughtfully. "I refuse to let Team Galactic steal this. It's an important piece of Sinnohan history!"

"And so... you're going to steal it first."

"...yeeees."

"And the difference between letting Team Galactic take it and taking it first is...?"

"I'd put it back! They..." Cynthia frowns. "Actually, I don't know if they would or wouldn't, but I'd rather not have to rely on the potential goodwill of someone trying to destroy the world."

"Right..."

"Team Galactic might destroy it once they're done with it. Or they might just throw it in the trash somewhere and we'd never see it again!"

"It's... a piece of metal," Cheryl says wearily.

"A very old piece of metal," Cynthia counters. "And nobody had the inscription written down in its entirety, when I was investigating its theft earlier... in a week."

"What I'm getting from this is that... the thief you were looking for wasn't Team Galactic after all?"

"It will be," Cynthia says firmly, "if I don't do anything. According to Dawn—that's one of the kids, small dark-haired girl with a scarf and a white hat—in... uh, the future, she said that there were detailed notes on the plaques in their headquarters."

"Right..." Cheryl rubs her head. "This is starting to give me a headache."

"It's been giving me one." Cynthia grins. "So... do you have any ideas for how to steal a plaque?"

"...don't do it in broad daylight, and..." She sighs. "You don't have anywhere to keep it until you'll be able to put it back, do you?"

"I will admit that I did not think that part through."

Cheryl sighs deeper. "My apartment. We'll just have to make sure... other you never sets foot inside."

"That won't be a problem." Cynthia frowns guiltily. "I'm sorry."

"I... I know." Cheryl reaches out, taking Cynthia's hand in hers, and holds it gently. "I'm glad you're sorry, let's just... try to do better from here on out."

Cynthia nods. "Yes. Let's… and thank you.”

"Thank you," Cheryl says, and smiles.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Hilariously, the first of the kids to turn up in Eterna City is actually Lucas, as Cynthia finds out from a surprise encounter almost a week later in the local pokemon center. She notices the Zubat perched on his hat first, actually, before he turns, an egg in an incubator nestled in his arms, and he goes, "Oh! Diana! ...damn, I owe Barry 20 pokedollars."

Cynthia blinks, deciding not to question the fact that the kids were betting on her just yet. "Hi, Lucas. Nice... Zubat?" Nice egg, as well. A very familiar-looking egg actually, one with a pattern she'd know pretty much anywhere.

"His name's Copernicus," Lucas says very seriously, reaching up to scritch the little bat. Copernicus chirrs in visible pleasure and rubs his face against his trainer's hat. "He likes it up there."

"I... see that," Cynthia agrees. "He looks like a very good boy."

"He is," Lucas agrees. "Wound up backtracking to the mines in Oreburgh for more training since the forest kind of hated both of my pokemon, and... realized that hey, I'm not just running into a bunch of wild Zubat every time, I'm running into this one specific Zubat every time, and... I guess he likes me?"

"Zuuuu," Copernicus agrees, gnawing idly on Lucas's hat.

"Or my hat. Probably just my hat actually." Nonetheless, Lucas reaches up to give his newest pokemon more scritches, and Copernicus makes a series of happy squeaks.

"I think he likes you for more than just your hat," Cynthia says.

"Maybe. It's okay if he does. Have you, uh... gotten any new pokemon lately?"

"A... Buneary."

"Oooof." Lucas winces. "Yeah, uh... good luck with that, I hear they're not great right after being caught. They'll evolve once they actually like you though."

"We're... working on that." Cynthia decides not to mention the knife for now. "What were you and Barry betting on?"

"He bet you'd gone ahead. I bet you'd headed back to train more."

"...well, I did train more," Cynthia points out. "Just not... ahead."

"Yeah..." Lucas shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot. As the nurse comes back over with Milady and Corundum's pokeballs, he says, "So, uh, I got this egg from a woman named Cynthia—"

"Hey, is that your pokemon outside?" Cynthia asks, and Lucas's head snaps away so quickly that it prompts an annoyed chirp from Copernicus. "Um, thanks, ma'am, I've—got them from here."

"What do you—" Lucas looks at the nurse leaving and lowers his voice. "Oh. Well, uh... that kind of confirms what I was thinking. That's—"

"Can we please have this conversation outside," Cynthia says somewhat desperately, as the nurse comes back over with a couple of pokeballs belonging to Lucas.

"Uh, yeah, sure." Lucas smiles at the nurse in thanks and starts walking. It's not until they're both outside that he says, in a voice that's not much more than a whisper, "So your name's really..."

"Cynthia," she confirms. "To be perfectly honest, I... had a lot of those eggs on hand. I couldn't remember entirely if I'd entrusted you with one or not."

"Oh. So you're a pokemon breeder, then?"

"...not... exactly. Right now, I am just a trainer. And to everyone except you, the professor, and... a friend of mine you haven't met, my name's Diana."

"Riiiight." Lucas gulps. "Hey, uh, there's some things I wanted to check out before I went for the gym, if you don't mind..."

"Not at all," Cynthia says, and follows the kid as he starts walking north. "My friend... her name's Cheryl, she has green hair she usually keeps in a braid and she's usually got a Chansey or a Blissey with her." And today she's down in Oreburgh, because there had actually been a cave-in in the mines this morning and she'd actually gone down to help.

"I... might have run into her yesterday, actually," Lucas says thoughtfully. "Does she spend a lot of time in Eterna Forest? She mentioned being worried about Team Galactic and not wanting to travel through it alone."

"...yes, she does," Cynthia says slowly. "I'm... not sure it was herself she was worried about."

"Huh? ... oh! That's... that's fair, actually, I'm not great at battling," Lucas says with a wince. He turns east, walking towards... oh no. The statue. "And I... have had a run-in with Team Galactic. Beyond showing up late at the Windworks, that is, Dawn and I—"

"She told me. They tried to steal the professor's research?"

"They tried to mug him," Lucas mutters angrily. "I was just meeting up with him to update him on, well, how the pokedex was going. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom for two minutes and I find out the hard way he left his Staraptor at home."

Cynthia sighs. "Of course he did. Please tell me he's keeping her with him now when he goes out?"

"I don't think he's left Sandgem Town since then...?" Lucas shrugs. "But also, yes, he has been."

"Good. That's... better than nothing, I suppose."

Lucas raises an eyebrow. "You didn't know that was going to happen, Ms. Time Traveler?"

"Not so loud," Cynthia hisses so loudly that a trainer walking by with his Buneary glances over before apparently deciding whatever he did hear wasn't worth questioning and continuing to walk the other way. She sighs.

The younger trainer snickers to himself. He only laughs more when Cynthia glares at him. "H-hey, that was funny!"

"Alright, maybe, yes," Cynthia concedes. "So... planning on challenging the gym?"

"Well, I... maybe? Eventually?" Lucas shrugs. "I figured I should probably wait for Barry and Dawn, they're the ones who are actually in this for training. I'm just... trying to record information about all the pokemon in the SInnoh region. That's all."

There's something off in his voice at the words, something that gives Cynthia pause and makes her observe out loud, "You... don't sound too enthusiastic about that."

"I am," Lucas says, almost defensively. He grimaces. "Well, okay, it's... it's just... that's not all I want to do, you know? Dawn and Barry both want to be the next champion—"

Cynthia can't quite suppress a snort at that, earning her a weird look. "Sorry. I... know the champion. She's very strong. Those two will have their work cut out for them if they want to stand a chance against her."

That gets her an even weirder look. "What is she, your ex or something?"

And that makes Cynthia choke on her own spit. "Just... keep going. They both want to be the next champion, that's cute, but you..."

"I don't know?" Lucas shrugs. "I really like pokemon. I really like studying pokemon, too, and battling is fun even if I suck at it. But those two know exactly what they want and I just... don't."

"I know the feeling," Cynthia says, because she did, once. Eterna City's gym had been her first gym, the Forest Badge her first badge, though it had not been her first try. She'd barely known anything about pokemon training at all then, never mind anything about gyms and badges and champions, and the title she would one day come to hold.

Becoming champion had... not been what she set out to achieve. Even once she'd first heard about the possibility from someone she wasn't yet sure was a friend, her goal had mainly been to travel the region and grow strong, to get all eight badges and prove she could make it to the Pokemon League. To prove she could be someone more than just a forgettable little girl from Celestic Town with a deep love for the past and high hopes for the future. 

It hadn't been all good. But she wouldn't trade that for the world. She can't even imagine where she'd be today, if she hadn't become Sinnoh's Champion.

(Maybe she'd have turned out like Cyrus did. That's... a terrifying thought.)

"You do?" Lucas asks. "...really? Or are you just saying that to patronize me."

"Believe me," Cynthia replies, "I do. My advice is to keep traveling around. Keep trying new things, even ones you might not be all that interested in, until you find something you love, something you could do for the rest of your life. You might not find it. Or you might think you found it, only to realize a few months later that you definitely haven't, that you may have slightly overestimated how much you enjoy that something. And that's alright! More than alright, even. There's no time limit."

"Well, uh, I think? Dying would count as one?"

Cynthia sighs. "That isn't the point, but yes, alright, fine, there is no time limit except dying. Given that you're... thirteen? Fourteen?"

"Fourteen," Lucas supplies. 

"Hopefully, you won't have to worry about that one for a long time. For now, just... collect badges if you want, but you certainly don't have to, it's just a fun way to test your skill and learn more about battling. I'm sure you're a better trainer than you were back in Oreburgh."

"W-well... okay, yes, I guess I am?" Lucas shrugs. "I don't really feel like one, though."

"You know what they say? Fake it 'til you make it. And in this particular case, they're right." Cynthia smiles. "Extra training never hurt anybody, though. Or is there something else you felt like investigating? I know there's someone involved with the Sinnoh Underground somewhere in Eterna City."

"The Sinnoh Underground? That sounds cool," Lucas says thoughtfully. "Though... now that you mention it... I might have a good idea of somewhere I can train for the gym battle and actually try to beat Barry and Dawn to it for once, and somewhere that I've just been kind of curious about. There's this old, abandoned building not too far inside Eterna Forest, and—"

She remembers too well a certain ghost's laughter, echoing all around. The wild ghosts there hadn't been anywhere near as bad, and that particular one's trainer is long gone, but...

"I'm coming with you."

Lucas blinks. "How did you know I was going to ask that?"

She didn't. "Magic."

Squinting skeptically, Lucas apparently decides it's not worth questioning. "Riiight... well, I'm sure a place like that is full of ghost-types, and maybe? It would be a good place to train for the gym? But really, I'm just kind of curious."

"It's called the Old Chateau," Cynthia says. "And... yes, there are a lot of ghosts there."

"Ghost.. types? Human ghosts? All of the above?"

"Mostly ghost-types." She'd rather not go back there anytime soon, personally. But she likes the idea of Lucas wandering around in there on his own, without anyone having any idea where he'd gone, even less. "I'll leave a note for Cheryl, just in case, but after that... sure, let's go looking for ghosts."

Lucas nods slowly. "Great! Ha, the others are definitely missing out on this one!"

Personally, Cynthia disagrees. But she isn't going to rain on his parade. She's just going to keep a careful eye out for anything out of the ordinary, and Lunare's pokeball where she can access it quickly.

At least this time, she has a ghost-type of her own going in. She didn't pick up Banshee on her original journey for... quite some time.

"First, though, there's this statue I really wanted to see," Lucas adds. "It's just up ahead, I think?"

...ah. That... That could be bad. Cynthia nods, and follows him, and decides to just hope he doesn't notice—

"Hey, where's the plaque?!"

—what's missing. Oops.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

Research Assistant Lucas
Kepler - Riemann - Copernicus

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"You don't like this place very much, do you?" Lucas asks, completely out of the blue and barely ten steps into the Old Chateau.

Cynthia sighs, adjusting her hat—and now that she thinks about it, she knows why it had seemed somewhat familiar to her back in that store in Jubilife. "Is it that obvious?"

"You're usually a lot better at pretending to be calm, so... yeahhh? What's up?"

Giving up entirely on pretenses, Cynthia sends out Lunare and gives the balloon pokemon an uncertain smile. "I just... don't like ghosts."

"Uh... you do know that Drifloon is a ghost-type, right?"

Lunare looks too amused to be offended, which is probably a good thing. Cynthia gives her an apologetic pat and says, "Some things happened here, back on my journey. It's... more one specific ghost, to be honest."

"Oh." Lucas looks a little nervous himself, now. "You don't think..."

"No, definitely not," Cynthia says. Not only is that pokemon's trainer gone, but she'd be a lot less scared of even that specific ghost without the trainer. It doesn't matter now. It hasn't mattered for a long time. "I'm afraid I can't tell you anything about what originally happened here, it was... long before my time as a trainer. Presumably someone died."

"I mean... yeahhhhhh?" Lucas sucks in a breath. "I'm starting to think that maybe explorer of haunted places isn't something I really want to do in the future either—OH SHIT! Is that a Gastly?!"

It is, indeed, a Gastly. Cynthia takes a deep breath and says, "Lunare, you can handle this one. Astonish."

Lunare burbles an agreement, and leaps in with a cry. The Gastly jolts back in midair, blinking in visible concern. Then it narrows its eyes, looking at Lunare. An image of a nail being pounded down by an invisible hammer is projected between them, before the Gastly lets out a startled cry and fades away into nothingness.

"...good job, Lunare...?" Cynthia says tentatively. 

"What just happened?" Lucas blurts out, looking very confused.

"I... think that Gastly just attempted to use Curse? Lunare, are you alright?"

Lunare bobs up and down and doesn't look visibly affected in any way, which is a relief. "Floo!"

"Curse? But that... doesn't do that. It raises and lowers stats, I think?" He pulls out his pokedex. "Yeah, alright, it raises your attack and defense and lowers your speed."

Cynthia peers over his shoulder. "Does that page say anything about ghost-types?"

"No...? Wait..." His brow furrows. "Oh. That's... weird. It works differently for ghosts?"

"Yep. Say you're a little Gastly. You use Curse, it'll hurt you pretty badly, but for as long as your opponent is still in combat, every few seconds they'll waste away a little more, until they faint—or, if you're not careful, worse. What I think the issue here was..." Actually, Cynthia almost feels bad for that Gastly now. "After Lunare's attack, that Gastly was already in pretty bad shape. So using Curse just... finished the job for her."

Lucas blinks. "That is... incredibly fucking stupid and I don't know why I was scared of this place."

Cynthia snorts. She wishes she could say she wasn't, either. (It wasn't the wild ghosts. But it should be fine now.)

"Let's... not split up," Cynthia says instead. 

"Sure, alright." Lucas shrugs carelessly. "Can Copernicus and I take the next ghost?"

The next ghost is another Gastly. So is the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that. Cynthia and Lucas trade off in terms of whoever's actually battling at any given time, though Cynthia does end up switching from Lunare to Corundum before too long simply because she feels bad about the Gastly that keep trying to use Curse and failing rather miserably.

And then, they end up in a side room, with a flickering TV. There's something... strange, about this room. Something uncertain yet almost familiar, and Cynthia doesn't know why.

It occurs to her, quite suddenly, that it's almost dark outside. She frowns at a window and says, "I lost track of time. We should not be here after dark."

"Why not?" Lucas asks, and she doesn't have an answer for him. He taps the TV, visibly curious. "Besides, don't you find it kind of weird that this thing has power when nothing else in the, uh, chateau does?"

"What do you mean, of course it—" She flicks a switch on the wall. Nothing happens. She flicks it up and down again several more times, for good measure. Still nothing. "Ah. Yes, that is strange."

The static on the TV flickers a bit brighter. That seems... familiar. Suspiciously so. Cynthia approaches it, slowly. Tentatively, she says, "Hello? Is anyone there?"

There's nothing, for a long moment. And then the static gives way to a winking emoji.

"Well that's weird," Lucas says. "TV's haunted... uh, Cynthia?"

"That's a pokemon," Cynthia says slowly. "Not a Gastly. I think... is that you in there?"

The winking emoji flickers, and a thumbs-up is displayed instead.

"Oh shit," Lucas says. "You know this pokemon? An old one of yours?"

"Not my pokemon. Someone else's."

Someone who—she remembers now, they'd only had five pokeballs on them. She thought that was odd, but dismissed it at the time due to the slightly more concerning issues of Dialga and Palkia both in chains. 

"He's a good kid," Cynthia continues, kneeling in front of the television. "You can trust him. I just... what are you doing here? What happened to you?"

The screen flickers. The pokemon within displays a frowny face, before emerging with a cry of "Ro!"

"Oh, holy shit, that is a pokemon," Lucas breathes. He pulls out his pokedex, lips moving silently as he reads out the entry. "So you're a... Rotom, huh?"

"Ro tom," this one agrees, xer body sparking wildly as xe looks at Cynthia. 

"I... don't know what happened between you and your old trainer," Cynthia says slowly. "But I'm... glad to see you're alright."

"Oh, holy shit, you really do know this one," Lucas whispers reverently. "Do you have a name?"

Cynthia nods. "Yeah, it's Si—"

"ROTOM!" The little pokemon all but hisses at her.

"...never mind," Cynthia says slowly, with a mental note to get the full story out of this pokemon sooner rather than later. "Xe does not have a nickname anymore?"

"Roto," the Rotom agrees.

"You know what, I'm not gonna ask," Lucas decides, which is a wise decision on his part. "Hey, uh... Mx. Rotom. You seem pretty cool, do you want to... come with me? I make no promises about gyms or badges or anything, I'm just... exploring with my friends and figuring out what I want to do with my life, I guess. Dialga, I'm fourteen, why am I getting all philosophical about this."

"Perfect time to," Cynthia says, right before the Rotom lets out a cry and a bolt of lightning from nowhere strikes the ground directly next to Lucas. "Hey, careful—"

"No, I... think I get it," Lucas says, going for a pokeball. "You want a battle? I'll give you a battle, alright! I... ah. That's electric-type, isn't it. I'd better go with Riemann, then—"

"Electric-Ghost," Cynthia says, deciding to have mercy on him right as his Kadabra emerges from the pokeball.

"Oh, fuck," Lucas mutters. "Well, I'm in bad shape with any of my pokemon, so we're just going to roll with this for now. Riemann, let's try—Confusion!"

The Kadabra obeys, the psychic-type move unsurprisingly doing almost nothing to the ghost-type. Rotom zips forward with a move Cynthia assumes is probably Astonish, and— ouch, yeah, that's going to hurt a lot.

Except Lucas smiles. "Disable!"

Oh. Oh, that's smart. Rotom tries to use Astonish a second time, but—can't. Xe lets out a high-pitched keening noise, concentrates, and strikes instead with an electric-type move that's probably Thunder Shock.

Probably, and yet—those had been the moves this Rotom had known back when Cynthia had first met xer. This particular Rotom should be far stronger than this.

"What happened to you?" Cynthia asks aloud. 

The Rotom bzzts at her angrily and tries another Thunder Shock. This one misses. Xe's growing tired. Xe's growing tired far faster than xe should, and it doesn't make sense.

(Why did Cyrus only have five pokemon on Mt. Coronet?)

"So, uh, Mx. Rotom," Lucas says, waving as his pokemon stands firm, waiting for further orders. He holds out a pokeball—no, that's a great ball—and asks, slightly nervously, "Had enough yet?"

Rotom considers this. Then xe baps the ball and goes inside.

"Holy shit," Lucas says. "That's new. Uh... I am going to call you Tesla. So, uh, Cynthia—"

"At the moment, I want to talk about it even less than your new Rotom does," Cynthia replies. She sighs. "I'd rather not stay here any longer, if that's alright. Tesla's a good name."

A good name, if one that makes Dawn point and laugh at how much of a nerd Lucas is once they get back to the pokemon center and find her there. Apparently, while Cynthia and Lucas had been exploring the haunted mansion, both Dawn and Barry had made it through Eterna Forest.

And Barry's already beaten the gym. Cynthia would be surprised he did it in one go, but he does have one of Sinnoh's rare fire-types. Gardenia may be very good with grass-types, but that doesn't change the fact that they're grass-types, and they have quite a few weaknesses complicating things.

Cynthia would know. She trained one. She misses her own Roserade keenly now, but there's nothing she can do about that. Nothing to do now except wait ten months... and Cynthia does not intend to spend those months being idle.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

Research Assistant Lucas
Kepler - Riemann - Copernicus - Tesla

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Dawn beats the gym on her first try, too. Or at least, that's what Cynthia thinks, until a few days later when she catches sight of Dawn heading back inside with four pokeballs on her belt and a grimly determined look on her face. Cynthia considers going in to watch, then decides against it. Better to avoid Gardenia when possible. Cynthia isn't sure how close the grass-type leader was to figuring her out in her own battle, but personally, she doesn't want to risk anything.

She's sure Dawn will win now, anyway. No shame in taking a few tries—there isn't exactly a time limit on gym challenges, after all. Bertha in particular comes to mind. She'd started collecting badges alongside her grandson, but while he'd collected eight and decided he was more interested in contests than battles, Bertha had gone on to be the region's champion and held that title for some time.

Though not as long as Cynthia's held it, of course.

And she's still got it.

But Bertha had held the record for longest-running Sinnoh League Champion before Cynthia, and Cynthia would be lying if she said she didn't miss the Elite Four quite a bit. Maybe, if she can get all eight badges before Team Galactic tries to destroy the world, she could at least get to battle them all again. The main issue there is that she'd have to either throw the match at some point, or actually, genuinely lose. She doesn't want to lose. And she definitely doesn't want to throw the match.

It's just another thing to look forward to in ten months, she supposes. She shrugs, and heads off to the bike shop. It's been closed for the last few days, which is... worrisome.

The bike shop owner has a history of getting in over his head, doesn't he?

"Looking for the guy who runs this place?" A voice asks from behind her. Cynthia turns, a hand going immediately to her pokeballs, only to relax when it turns out to just be Lucas. He grins and says, "So. I've got it on good authority that Team Galactic stole one of his employees' pokemon, so he went into their building up north and hasn't come back."

"Wh— when was this?" Cynthia asks sharply. "And why are you smiling?"

"Oh! Shit, sorry." Lucas wipes the smile off his face. "Uhhh, couple days ago? Anyway, I'm excited to beat the shit out of them now that you're here too."

Cynthia just... stares at him, for a long moment. "Are you feeling alright?"

"Better than alright," Lucas says firmly.

"Then why are you suggesting we, alone, go take on Team Galactic? What about Dawn, I just saw her go into the gym, she'll be done soon?"

"Apparently the people at the Valley Windworks really didn't like her. Or maybe she just pissed off the people here a whole bunch?" Lucas shrugs. "Anyway, they won't let her near the building. And Barry got a bike before the bike guy disappeared, he's already on his way to Hearthome. So it's up to us."

Cynthia's starting to get a headache from this. "And... they'll let us near the building why?"

"Because they don't see us as a threat!" Lucas beams. "Also, I don't have a pokemon that can help me get past the thorny bushes blocking the way in."

"Couldn't your Zubat—"

"Haven't beaten the gym yet."

"I..." Something doesn't seem quite right about this, but Cynthia shrugs anyway. "You know what, alright. Just so you know, Dawn's a terrible influence on you."

Lucas's grin only grows. "Dawn told me that you encouraged her to go fight the people at the Windworks."

"That's—that's not what I said. I said I'd go with her because I didn't think I could stop her short of defeating her entire team, bodily throwing her over my shoulder, and hauling her to the nearest pokemon center."

The boy snorts. "That's a great mental image. Doubt you'd be able to defeat her entire team, though. She's pretty strong."

"Oh, I absolutely could and I'll happily go fight her once she's done with the gym. But right now..." Cynthia's eyes narrow. "You're right. We can't wait for her, and... I'll text Cheryl, let her know where we're going and to contact the authorities if we don't come back. Or... can I borrow your poketch for a second?"

"Uh, no," Lucas says. "It's dead."

"...oh." Cynthia sighs. "This is a terrible idea but I'll just leave her a note for now."

And, after doing so, and after sending out Milady to deal with the bushes blocking the entrance, walking into Team Galactic's building is as easy as just... walking in. Lucas takes a deep breath, a hand going to his pokeballs—wait. Why are there only three of them?

"Fuck," Lucas says before Cynthia can ask about that, his gaze going to a grunt coming out of a side door. Their eyes meet. Lucas goes for a pokeball—

"Wait!" The grunt's eyes go wide, and he holds his hands up. "Lucas, wasn't it? It is me! I understand that my disguise is very good, but—"

"...Looker?" Lucas says slowly.

"Looker?" Cynthia echoes, dubiously.

That's the name of a field agent with the International Police, she's pretty sure, though she's not particularly familiar with the man herself. To be perfectly honest, she tries to steer clear of the International Police, when she can. They're... far from being as helpful as they think. (And she hadn't been aware Interpol already had an agent in Sinnoh, which is... concerning, these things are supposed to go through the Champion.)

"Aha! Yes, it is me, though I see your friend is not here right now, and I... don't believe I've made the pleasure of your acquaintance, but that will simply have to wait." Looker laughs. "Do I not look precisely like one of them?"

"...yes, you do," Lucas agrees. To Cynthia, he says, "I met him back in Jubilife with, um, Dawn. A couple months back, it was right when we both got to the city."

"Ah," Cynthia says. She should probably just try and make sure this man doesn't have any reason to scrutinize her disguise too closely. "So... Mr. Looker... why are you dressed up like you're in Team Galactic if you're not in Team Galactic?"

"That's, uh, classified?" Looker tries hopefully.

"He's a member of the International Police," Lucas says cheerfully.

"SHH! Not so loud! Now, listen, since you are here... much of the organization based here is keeping an eye on your young friend Dawn, since they deem her a threat. This means you shall meet relatively little resistance should you strike now—"

"The bike shop owner disappeared here two days ago," Cynthia snaps, beginning to lose her patience. "Where is he?"

Looker practically jumps out of his skin. "Ah. Upstairs. He and the stolen pokemon are being held upstairs. Though I do warn you, there is a trick to which stairwell is safe and which is not, and—"

"Can they stop us now that we're inside?"

"Well, no, but—"

"Great! In that case, let's do this, Diana." Lucas smiles, and bolts for one of the stairwells, a pokeball already in his hands. 

Before following him, Cynthia gives Looker a slightly smug smile and says, "Enjoy your investigation."

By some miracle, the two of them manage to make it nearly to the top floor of the building without being caught and having to battle their way out. But there's still no sign of any of the commanders nor Cyrus themself, and so Cynthia sighs and sends out Milady.

Lucas—three pokeballs, why doesn't he have Tesla's on him?—sends out his own pokemon as well. Except.

Except. The pokemon sent out isn't Kepler the Piplup (who must be a Prinplup by now) or Riemann the Kadabra, or even Copernicus the Zubat (and why hadn't Lucas still had Copernicus hanging out on his hat, either?)

No. It's a new pokemon, one that Cynthia doesn't recognize. A Luxio, who growls long and low at the sight of the grunts' pokemon, fur already sparking with electricity. She doesn't know this pokemon of his yet.

Except... does she? Lucas has been acting strange today, and he only has three pokeballs...

"Is that Tuxedo?" Cynthia asks, glancing over at the trainer she now quite strongly suspects is not Lucas and raising an eyebrow.

The trainer's nervous laugh and grin only confirms it. "Maybe...? Uh, Tuxedo, use Spark."

"Milady, Cut," Cynthia orders. "...Dawn?"

"Shit. Oops. I had you fooled for a while, though, didn't I?" Dawn looks quite smug as she calls, "Alright, now the other Zubat! They were watching me to make sure I didn't pull anything like in the Windworks after I started yelling at them from outside. Lucas and I switched outfits since he hadn't gotten involved in Team Galactic's shit yet, except for that one time they tried to mug the professor, and they wouldn't have known I already had Gardenia's badge."

"...Dawn, you are quite possibly one of the most reckless trainers I've ever met, and I know myself... decently well," Cynthia says as the battle ends, and both grunts recall their pokemon and sprint deeper into the compound. "I knew something was strange, but I'll admit that I didn't consider that you just weren't Lucas until you sent out Tuxedo—oh! Hello!" 

The Luxio in question is now rubbing up against Cynthia's leg, pleading for just one small pet, please, she'll surely starve without it. Cynthia chuckles to herself and reaches down to pet the Luxio, while Dawn reaches out to Milady to do the same.

"Uh, I wouldn't—" Cynthia winces as Milady pulls out her knife, and Dawn takes a very big step back. "If you can pet her without being stabbed, be my guest."

"Ah." Dawn nods, blinking. "I will simply admire you from a safe distance for now, Milady. So, uh, Diana... where did you find a Buneary with a knife, and where can I get one?"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Galactic Commander Jupiter is just as insufferable as Cynthia remembers from Mt. Coronet, which is to say, very much so. Cynthia doesn't like the look of that Skuntank walking alongside her, though, or its visibly sharpened claws. To Jupiter's credit, that's a very healthy-looking Skuntank. That just means that Skuntank is going to be an absolute monster to face in battle, though, and Cynthia wouldn't put it past Team Galactic to try something with, say, the old man or the pokemon stuck in the prison cell off to the side from her.

"That must be the commander," Dawn says in a low, angry voice. Tuxedo growls beside her. "Let's—"

"Hold on," Cynthia says, grabbing her by the back of her—well, Lucas's —coat. "I can take her. I've got a different job for you."

Dawn isn't too happy about it, but she agrees—which is good, because that keeps her and her pokemon more firmly out of harm's way and will allow Cynthia to fully focus on the battle at hand. And so Cynthia sends Milady back out, and walks into the room alone.

"Oh, if it isn't our troublemaker from the Windworks," Jupiter says, smiling a distinctly unnerving smile. "Where's your little friend?"

"She was busy," Cynthia says with a shrug. "And according to her, your people were watching for her to make a move. I figured I could handle you lot on my own."

"Hm. You know... Diana, isn't it? I've heard a lot about you." Jupiter's eyes narrow. "Mostly from Mars, a bit from Charon, but who really cares about that bastard anyway, and you seem pretty interesting. You've got what, one badge?"

"Two." Ten.

"And yet you're quite the experienced trainer, aren't you? And yet you travel around with children."

"Someone has to keep them out of trouble." Cynthia shrugs.

"And... your idea of keeping them out of trouble... is getting into said trouble first?"

"Yes? Why wouldn't it be?"

"I feel a migraine coming on," Jupiter mutters under her breath. "Look, I know you're not the novice you pretend to be. And you've clearly got experience with our organization."

"Not as much as you think? Not with yours, anyway."

"...ahhh." Jupiter nods, apparently coming to some conclusion that Cynthia decides she isn't going to correct. "You must be from Kanto, then. Or Hoenn. Well, let me tell you, little miss Diana—"

"I'm taller than you."

Jupiter gives her a withering glare and continues, "Team Rocket? Team Aqua, Team Magma? They are nothing compared to what Team Galactic intends to achieve. They are nothing compared to Team Galactic! So tell me. Do you really want to tangle with me?"

Cynthia pretends to think about it. "Hmm... let me think... yes."

"So be it." The Skuntank by her side does not leap into battle immediately. Instead, she tosses out a pokeball, revealing a Zubat. "Debris, you handle this. Wing Attack."

Oh, what Cynthia wouldn't give for Tuxedo—or even Tesla—right now.  What she wouldn't give for any of her other pokemon, even Rosaceae who would be at a massive type disadvantage to a Zubat. But it's alright. She can do this.

"Milady, Frustration," Cynthia orders, and the single hit nearly knocks the poor bat out of the sky. Milady spins on her heel and sticks her tongue out at Cynthia, Soothe Bell around her arm jingling. "Yes, I'm aware, you hate me, that's understandable, might we get back to the battle now?"

"Bunbun," Milady growls in response, right before the Zubat whacks her nearly off her feet with its wings. She trips and falls flat on her face, and Cynthia can't quite suppress a wince at that.

"Now finish that little shit off with Bite!" Jupiter says evenly.

The commander's Zubat sinks her teeth into Milady's arm just as Milady pulls herself back to her feet. The Buneary visibly flinches back, letting out a pained cry, and glares at Cynthia as if to ask, are you REALLY letting this happen?

Cynthia is not being guilt-tripped by her own pokemon right now. She makes the executive decision to swap to someone else, but... who?

"Milady, return," she says, not missing the eyeroll as Milady goes back into her ball. "Corundum, you're up: Rollout."

"Geeeeeo!" Corundum agrees, tucking her arms into her sides and launching herself at the Zubat.

She misses.

"Giga Drain," Jupiter says evenly, crossing her arms. "No, you're not a new trainer. So why are you pretending to be one, Diana? If that's even your real name?"

"I don't—" Cynthia begins, only to cringe as the grass-type move nearly takes out Corundum in a single hit. And she knows how Giga Drain works. Even if she didn't, that Zubat is looking a lot better now. "I don't have to explain myself to you, Jupiter. Corundum, one more time, Rollout."

Jupiter's mouth falls open. Corundum's attack connects, and she keeps on rolling in preparation for more as her Skuntank gets into position. And Cynthia... pauses.

"I never told you my name," Jupiter says, eyes narrowing.

Fuck.

"Of course you didn't," Cynthia agrees. "I can read minds. You're about to try poisoning my pokemon, aren't you?"

Jupiter's eyes widen. Maybe her somewhat frantic bluff paid off. "Good idea! Poison Gas."

"Keep on rolling, Corundum," Cynthia says, and as the Skuntank sprays, Corundum tackles the other pokemon headlong. It's a more powerful strike than before, and if Corundum can keep moving, keep hitting, her attacks will just get more and more powerful.

Except—ah. That's a berry the Skuntank just pulled out of its fur and ate. Isn't it.

And Corundum is very much poisoned, which is. NOT good. At all. Clock's ticking, now, and it'll keep ticking even once she's back in her ball, which means Cynthia needs to end this. Fast.

Corundum misses the next Rollout. Cynthia takes the opportunity to recall her and send out Lunare, except—wait, no, Corundum just rolled right out of the way of the recall beam.

"Stupid little shit. Take it out! Night Slash," Jupiter calls.

"Corundum, you can do this." It'll be tricky, but... "Magnitude!"

And that move is super-effective. The Skuntank skids back from the shaking ground, breathing heavily. And Corundum—

Corundum starts to glow. Evidently she'd been paying attention in the Valley Windworks, because the light fades well before Jupiter can get any ideas about attacking her, and a significantly bigger pokemon with double the limbs she formerly had stands between Cynthia and the Galactic Commander.

"Well done, Corundum," Cynthia says proudly. There's an Antidote with her pokemon's name on it, but right now... she's bought Dawn enough time. "Now. Are you going to leave quietly, or am I going to have to make you? I've got more pokemon where those came from."

"Oh, you won't want to do that," Jupiter says smugly. "We've got a—wait, what?!"

"Hello!" Dawn waves cheerfully, from where she and Tuxedo are standing in front of an empty cell. "Were you going to say you have a hostage? Because you don't."

"Also, that Skuntank of yours is on her last legs," Cynthia adds.

"How many little shits with that pokemon are there," Jupiter practically hisses.

"Luxioooo," Tuxedo hisses back.

"Just the one." Dawn beams. "Honestly, I didn't expect to fool that many people, at least not for this long. Lucas and I don't look that much alike. Anyway, Tuxedo?"

"Gastro, Smokescreen!" Jupiter shouts. The Skuntank throws up a cloud of smoke, and by the time it clears, Jupiter and her pokemon are long gone.

By the time it clears, it seems every other member of Team Galactic in the HQ is long-gone, too, including that agent from Interpol. 

"That went... well," Dawn decides.

"Bike shop owner?" Cynthia asks.

"Safely back in his shop and assured we had it under control. Actually, he wanted to help, but..." Dawn shrugs. "Got the stolen pokemon here, too. Let's return 'em."

Cynthia finds herself nodding slowly, as she turns away from a window, then faster once she catches sight of long blonde hair heading their way. "Yes," she says. "Let's do that."

And, as Dawn and one Cynthia leave out the back door—quite possibly the same place Jupiter had fled from, given that it still smells faintly of smoke and Skuntank's distinctive aroma—the other Cynthia walks in the front. She hears from Dawn, later, that she'd run into this really tall trainer who'd recognized her pokedex, laughed when she challenged her to a battle, and gave her an egg.

"Oh yeah," Lucas agrees, sitting in the pokemon center as he waits for his pokemon to be healed, recently switched back outfit-wise. "She gave me one, too."

Dawn snickers. "What, so she was like— can I offer you a nice egg in this trying time? Does she just go around giving eggs to people?"

"Not everyone," Cynthia says, somewhat defensively. "She didn't give me one."

Though that was probably because she thought I was flirting with Cheryl. Which I'm still trying to wrap my head around why that bothers me so much. It... shouldn't. Should it?

"Or me," Cheryl agrees, playing with Happi in her lap. "Though that's because I'm where she got those eggs' parent from."

"Ooooh?" Dawn perks up. "Can you tell us what's in there?"

Cheryl considers this for a moment. She smiles. "No."

"Oh come on! Diana, your friend's mean."

"That is literally the last word I'd use to describe Cheryl," Cynthia says. "Are you planning to hatch it?"

"Duh," Dawn says. "Gotta, for the pokedex. Though..." She reaches into her pack and pulls out the egg in its incubator, smiling down at it. "I think... as long as this isn't anything I already have on my team... hey. Hey, Cheryl. Can you at least tell me what type it is?"

"Normal. Evolves into Normal and Flying."

"Oooh!" Dawn perks up. "Wait, how do you—"

"Oh, that Cynthia lady's her ex," Lucas says with a grin that's positively shit-eating , looking Cynthia herself dead in the eyes. It occurs to Cynthia, suddenly, that Dawn is the only person here who doesn't, and can't, know her secret.

And Lucas is fully aware of that fact.

"Really?"

"Why, yes, of course," Cheryl says, lying through her teeth. "They didn't part on that terrible of circumstances, but it was fairly recent, and it's still a little awkward."

"You traitor," Cynthia mutters fondly.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

In Cynthia's opinion, things go pretty smoothly after Eterna, for a while. She thought she'd be thrilled to have a bicycle again, but while she's heading down Cycling Road for the first time on this one all she can think about is how she and Aster had been too busy to go biking for... a while. She used to go biking with her Garchomp. Or more accurately, she'd bike, her Garchomp would fly overhead, and they'd both have a great time at early hours of the morning racing each other up and down Cycling Road until they were both fully out of breath, she was starting to see other bikers, or she was needed elsewhere. Whatever came first.

That settles it. The first thing she's doing once Team Galactic is gone is that, because—because she misses Aster, so much. It's why, when Cheryl turns to her afterwards and asks half-jokingly if she's going to be biking up and down Cycling Road all day, that Cynthia just wordlessly shakes her head and collapses her bike to be able to carry it better.

It's why, when she sees a Gible on her way through Mt. Coronet, that Cynthia's first thought is that she must be hallucinating. She looks down at the little dragon-type, eyes wide. The Gible looks up at her, cocking its head to the side and blinking.

"Gravvv," Corundum says, lumbering over to it, and—okay, if Corundum sees it too, she's not hallucinating.

"Are you seriously telling me," Cynthia says, pulling out her pokedex to register the Gible for the professor, "that all this time, wild Gible have been in Mt. Coronet? And I never found any?"

"Uh, no, actually," someone says quietly. It's Lucas, just having come out from around a rock. Well, probably Lucas, unless he and Dawn switched clothes again, but—no, there's the great ball holding Tesla on his belt, this is actually Lucas. "This is Pythagoras! Isn't he cute? Funky little dragon-type, apparently!"

The Gible—Pythagoras—waves a little paw. It only takes a matter of moments for Cynthia to cross the distance between them, pass over Pythagoras entirely, plant her hands on Lucas's shoulders, and ask, "WHERE."

Lucas blinks. He looks a little scared. "H-huh?"

"Where did you find As—" Cynthia shakes her head, and steps back a bit to give him some space. "Pythagoras. I know where to find wild Gabite, but not wild Gible. Where did you find him?"

"Oh! Hey, Pyth, come over here a second?" The Gible toddles over to his trainer obediently, and Lucas picks him up in his arms. "Um, not in Mt. Coronet, exactly, there's... a cave underneath Cycling Road?"

"Wayward Cave?" Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "I've been there. There aren't any Gible."

Pythagoras lets out a contented noise as his trainer cuddles him, and Lucas clarifies, "Not the main cave. There's another one, it's a bit hard to see from the outside, there's... a lot of bushes blocking the entrance and you can't see it from above, either?" He chuckles nervously and adds, "I probably wouldn't have found it if Copernicus hadn't taken off through said bushes. I had to go after him. Plus side! He, um, evolved in there!"

"Oh! Congratulations." Cynthia smiles. "If it isn't too much to ask..."

"You want me to show you where this cave is?" Lucas guesses. 

"Maybe. Perhaps. Yes. How did you know?"

Lucas just gives her a look at that. "You... really like Gible, huh."

Cynthia nods. "One of my best pokemon, back before... well..."

"...the nonconsensual time travel involving Team Galactic?"

"...yes."

"You know what, you can hold Pythagoras," Lucas says suddenly, and just like that there's at least twenty or thirty pounds of squirming baby dragon in her arms. "And yeah! If nothing else, it'll be good for the pokedex."

"Thank you," Cynthia says gratefully, going to follow him. It's been a long time since Aster was a Gible, but she still faintly remembers where she liked to be scritched best. Judging by the way Pythagoras stops squirming and starts purring in her arms, it's working well.

It takes the better part of the day to backtrack to the secret part of Wayward Cave, and given that it's nearly dusk by the time Lucas and Cynthia get there, it's a pretty clear-cut decision to spend the night.

And, lying there in a sleeping bag with the occasional cry of a burrowing Gible in the distance makes her... a little less homesick, if you can call it homesickness to begin with. Does it count as homesickness if it isn't a place you miss, but others?

"Yeah," Lucas says the next morning as he's packing up his own supplies across the cave, Tesla zipping back and forth around his head and serving as a somewhat erratic light source. "I'd say it does."

"Good to hear," Cynthia agrees, not moving.

Lucas pauses. "So, uh... you could stay here watching those Gible play all day, huh."

"Yes, I could," Cynthia says without hesitation. There's three of them, wrestling with each other and burrowing around in the ground under the watchful eye of a Gabite, probably their mother. "I absolutely could."

"Well, mood, but Dawn's started texting me—sounds like she and Cheryl made it to Hearthome, and... oh, shit?" Lucas blinks at his poketch. "Wow, she lost to Barry, though she's blaming that on the fact that he challenged her immediately after she got into the city. Also, they both want to battle you now."

"They'll lose," Cynthia says with utmost certainty.

"I know I would," Lucas replies. "But... if it's alright with you... I'd like to battle you anyway? I learn so much from battles, even if I lose them, and... I'm getting better at not losing them as often!"

"Good progress. And... sure, why not." Cynthia thinks about this for a moment. "Is three on three alright? Or would you like to make it fairer?"

Lucas blinks. "That... would be fair???"

"Ehhh." Cynthia makes a so-so motion with her hand. "Three of mine against all of yours would be fairer, to be completely honest. Though I should say, this is not just you, I'd say the same to Dawn or Barry. I like a challenge."

"That's terrifying but okay." Lucas takes a deep breath, and a few steps back, going for a pokeball—Pythagoras coming out in the blink of an eye. "We've got an audience."

Cynthia, glancing over to where the wild Gible had been playing, finds that they most certainly do. Pythagoras waves to some of the wild ones, who wave back in turn—one even jumping up and down in excitement. The wild Gabite has made herself scarce, understandably so, but Cynthia would bet money she hasn't gone far.

"I see no issue with that." Cynthia tosses her own pokeball. "Corundum? Let's do this."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

Research Assistant Lucas
Kepler - Riemann - Copernicus - Tesla - Pythagoras

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"Pythagoras, I believe in you," Lucas says firmly. "Use, um—Sandstorm! Like we practiced!"

That... isn't a bad strategy, actually, despite what Lucas clearly seems to think of his battling ability. In fact, against most pokemon, it would be a very good one—and even against Corundum in particular, it's still decent.

"Magnitude," Cynthia calls, shielding her eyes from the shifting sand. The ground shakes—though not very hard. In fact, she isn't even sure it hit Pythagoras at all. And yet Lucas is frowning.

"This doesn't... why isn't Sandstorm hurting..." He shakes his head. "It's okay. We'll figure it out. Pythagoras—Dragon Rage!"

Ah. And that's a problem. Dragon Rage won't do Lucas and Pythagoras anywhere near as much good later, but right now... right now, with the relatively weak pokemon she and him both have, it's extremely powerful.

(Cynthia would know. She's pretty sure she only got through the Eterna Gym the first time because of Dragon Rage.)

"Magnitude, again," Cynthia calls, and this time— this time Corundum's attack sends the little dragon flying.

But Pythagoras gets back up. Lucas visibly sighs in relief and says, "Pythagoras, return."

"Wait, what?"

But Lucas has already returned his Gible, sending out instead Copernicus the— Golbat, right. Copernicus blinks at Cynthia and Corundum with recently acquired eyes. Cynthia realizes, suddenly, that he definitely hasn't seen her before.

"Hello, Copernicus," Cynthia says lightly, waving.

"Gol," Copernicus chirps back, squinting back at her through the sandstorm Pythagoras had created. It occurs to her, suddenly, that this probably would be far less of a disadvantage for a Zubat than it would be for a Golbat... though it would also depend on how much a sandstorm affects a Zubat's echolocation. So maybe it would be equally bad in a different way.

"Alright, let's get back to the battle," Lucas says firmly. "You can't use Magnitude against him, he's a flying-type!"

"I'm... aware," Cynthia says slowly. "You do know that Graveler isn't just a ground-type, right?"

"Huh?" Lucas blinks. "No? What else is it?"

"Do you... know what Graveler evolves from?"

"...Geodude? Unless you named some entirely different pokemon the same thing as your Geodude?" Lucas tries. He pauses. A look of horror crosses his face—perhaps he remembers Roark's. "Wait. Shit."

"Rollout," Cynthia calls. To her surprise, Rollout doesn't take out Copernicus in one hit.

"Wing Atta— what?!"

But evidently, it had done enough damage to Copernicus that, when the sandstorm caused the Golbat to slam directly into the cave wall, that was enough. Lucas looks incredibly confused as he recalls Copernicus, then he... thinks. Furrows his brow and, as the sandstorm clears at last, he sends out... oh, his Prinplup. "Okay. Kepler, you can do this. I just... I don't get why..."

"Copernicus, return, you've done well," Cynthia says. "Why Sandstorm was only damaging your pokemon, and not her?"

"Yes! It doesn't make sense?? I thought you needed a specific ability—and Pythagoras has that ability, otherwise I wouldn't have let him learn something that would just hurt him...."

"Good," Cynthia says, perhaps with more bite to her words than she needed. "Keep that mindset. However... Sand Veil, I believe it's called? It makes it harder to hit your pokemon in a sandstorm. However, even without that, Pythagoras would have been fine."

"Really? That's..." Lucas blinks. "How???"

"Ground-types, rock-types, steel-types, and some other pokemon that are none of those thanks to abilities," Cynthia clarifies. "In any case... Maelstrom, go!"

Her own Prinplup chirps a cheerful greeting to the other, getting into position for battle. "Pri!"

"Prin," Kepler responds.

"Metal Claw," Lucas orders.

And... well, none of Maelstrom's moves are going to be extremely effective, but Cynthia might as well go for the one that'll be the most effective out of a bunch of bad options. "Pound."

Neither attack does very much to the other. But that's okay. Cynthia's got this victory in the (metaphorical) bag, because even if Kepler brings Maelstrom down, she's still got Milady waiting in the (metaphorical) wings.

After the next few Metal Claws, Lucas smiles, and shakes his head. "I forfeit. You did good, Kepler, it's not your fault that your trainer can't battle."

"Pri..." Kepler waddles over to him and cocks her head to the side, staring up at him. Lucas frowns.

"What is it, girl?"

"I'd guess something along the lines of the fact that you clearly can battle," Cynthia says. "The trick is... well, there is no trick, really. You just need to learn from experience. Some of that experience might be winning, some of that experience might be losing, but the important thing is that you learn from what you've done in the past. If you lost, like today? Figure out why, most trainers will be happy to go into detail about just how badly they beat you and just what you should have known going in... though be warned some will also be quite rude about it. If you won? It'll be tempting to just accept it and move on, but it's worth figuring out why you won, too, so you can do it again."

Lucas blinks. "Oh. So... why did I lose? Could I have even won?"

"I'll be honest, the relative strengths of the pokemon involved is sometimes less of a factor than their trainer is. If two trainers with the exact same pokemon, exact same movesets to choose from, exact same everything were to go up against each other? The one who knows what they're doing is going to win. That makes sense, right?"

"Right," Lucas says slowly. "But—"

"But say you've got one with much stronger pokemon than the other. She's trained hard, she's confident, as she should be. When it comes to a battle, she goes up against someone who's actively trained less, but knows their team better. Who's going to win?"

"My gut is telling me the one who trained more, but that's not what you want me to say, is it?"

Cynthia shakes her head. "Knowledge isn't everything, you have to be able to apply it well, and if you haven't put any time into strengthening your team then you're going to lose no matter how effective your moves are. But raw strength isn't everything either, not even close. If you know your team well, you'll have more options to work with. Know their moves, their abilities, their typings. Pokemon deal more damage if they use a move that's their type, did you know that?"

"Well, yes, but..." Lucas looks down at Kepler and Maelstrom, who's looking at him now with an equally concerned expression. He goes to sit on a rock with a heavy sigh. "A water-type move isn't going to be very effective against a water-type, is it? Even if it's a... water-type using it... gods this is complicated."

"More complicated than most people realize," Cynthia says wryly. "There's all sorts of different moves with different typings, different power levels, different effects... do you want to know what the most important thing of all is, Lucas?"

"Obviously," Lucas says. "What?"

"Take care of your pokemon. And they'll take care of you." And if one of the wild Gible doesn't have a notch in their fin and looks so, so, so much like her Garchomp once did? If Cynthia ends up smiling at that one in particular once she finally leaves Wayward Cave?

That is no one's business but hers, and neither are the unshed tears in her eyes.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady

PKMN Trainer Lucas
Kepler - Riemann - Copernicus - Tesla - Pythagoras

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

For all Cynthia had said to Lucas about how knowing your enemy was half the battle, the other half is still, of course, actual physical strength. And so she splits off from him in the fields just outside of Hearthome City, intending to do some training before heading in to challenge the gym.

"The leader is Fantina, now," she tells a somewhat uncooperative Milady, from where she's perched on a boulder watching her send a wild Ralts fleeing. "Same type as it was on my first time through, though, I... think Fantina might have been one of the gym trainers back then?"

"Bunbun," Milady says sourly.

"Right, you don't care at all, do you." Cynthia smiles. "You're going to be essential against her, though you won't be able to use Cut at all."

Unsurprisingly, Milady takes even more offense to that, putting her paws on her hips and shouting back, "Buuuun!"

"You're welcome to try, I suppose, but it won't do any good. Normal-type moves don't do anything against ghost-types. Neither do fighting ones, by the way. But fortunately for us, that goes both ways. Ghost-type moves can't do anything to you, either."

Milady makes a satisfied noise. "Eary-reary."

"I mean, they're going to have moves other than ghost-type moves, of course, and none of your regular ones would work... but fortunately, Gardenia gave us two TMs." The second is resting in her new TM case right next to the one for Cut, and has already proven decently useful—particularly right now, because the tall grass is shifting around them and something is certainly coming this way. Probably another Ralts. "Milady? Grass Knot."

Milady, being Milady, is all too happy to do so the instant the new pokemon steps into view. It stumbles backwards almost out of sight, and Cynthia nearly falls off the boulder she's sitting on.

It is, as it happens, another Ralts.

It's also blue, where a normal Ralts would be green.

Cynthia's heard of shiny pokemon—who hasn't? She's seen them before, on the occasional challenger's team at the Pokemon League or even on the internet. But this is the first time she's ever seen a wild one.

There's a few theories as to why the pokemon known as shinies are so rare. If it's a genetic trait, it must be a recessive one, but even besides that... the prevailing theory is that, since shiny pokemon blend in less well with their environments, they're often cast out. 

This particular pokemon doesn't seem too bothered, if it's been cast out from their friends and family. It narrows its eyes at Milady and uses—Confusion, probably.

Cynthia takes a deep breath. She's suddenly incredibly glad that she'd found an unused Ultra Ball lying behind a rock in Mt. Coronet—probably left there by a trainer who missed a throw and couldn't find their ball again, now that she thinks about it, but that is not what she needs to think about right now. She breathes, reverently, "Arceus. Hello."

The Ralts seems to only now notice there's a human here, too. It stares at her, eyes hidden under the blue, frozen.

"Bunnnn," Milady growls.

"Milady, Grass Knot," Cynthia says quietly. "But be careful."

Careful, as she soon finds out, is not a word that Milady understands (or, more likely, she does understand it perfectly well, she just chooses to ignore it and chooses violence instead.) After a second Grass Knot from her, the Ralts is barely standing, small legs trembling beneath it as it decides what to do next.

"Ra, ra, raaalts," it chants, tiny voice shaking, and—okay, that's the signature sheen of a Lucky Chant, which... would probably have done more good earlier in the fight. At this point, the Ralts looks like a good breeze could blow it over entirely.

"Okay, Milady, that's enough. Back off."

Milady looks immensely displeased with being told to stop making like a Primeape with a knife (and that is a terrifying mental image) but obeys, backing up. Slightly.

The Ralts starts to glow, preparing another psychic attack, and—Cynthia throws the Ultra Ball and prays to no deity in particular.

She finds out later, after scanning this one with her pokedex to check, that this Ralts had apparently known Teleport. Cynthia looks down at the tiny psychic-type in her lap, then, and— laughs, prompting a few slightly concerned looks from other trainers in the pokemon center.

"Ra?" The Ralts blinks up at her, eyes faintly visible as she tilts her head back.

"Of course you knew Teleport the whole time." Cynthia shakes her head with a smile. "Thank you for not using that, this way we can actually get to know each other and I can not be beating myself up for missing the one shiny pokemon I've ever seen in my life. I... I'll be honest, I was considering a Ralts already."

"Raaaalts." The pokemon nods, a tad smugly. She reaches out to play with one of the arms of Cynthia's coat, tied around her waist still as always. (And for good reason—her actual trainer card is in there, along with a few other things she would really rather not have to replace. Or do without, in one specific case.)

"At this rate, Diantha really is going to think I've committed identity theft," Cynthia half-jokes in an undertone. "I'll explain the full situation later, but for now... it's lovely to meet you, little one. I'm... not actually Diana, but please do call me that, and we're going to get eight badges and save the world, most likely in that order."

The Ralts nods slowly. "Ralts alts alts."

"Glad to be working with you. Second order of business... you need a name, even though somehow I doubt you're going to play a very big role in the gym here. You'll do amazing in the next one, though." Cynthia clears her throat awkwardly. "There are... a lot of ways that trainers come up with nicknames for their pokemon, and to be completely honest, the only thing consistent about how I come up with mine is that I'm not consistent. But... the most striking feature about you, I think, is—well, you're blue. Obviously."

Okay, now the Ralts is definitely laughing at her. That's fair.

"So... I've been looking up various shades of blue," Cynthia continues, looking down at her poketch. "To see if there were any really good ideas I could use, and I think... well, what do you think? There's... well, azure, ocean blue, aqua—no, not aqua, that's the name of a team from Hoenn and I actually happen to like you. Royal blue, cadet blue, sky blue... celeste?"

...huh. She hadn't been aware that was a name of a shade of blue, but there it is in the images tab of her search. That particular shade even looks pretty similar to the Ralts herself, and if memory serves, wasn't that the name of a video game?

(Granted, she mostly heard things about it secondhand from Flint, who is borderline masochistic when it comes to gaming, but still. She can't exactly claim to have played it, but from what she heard about that particular game, it was quite good.)

"Celeste," Cynthia repeats, looking down at the Ralts. "What do you think?"

"Ralll..." She looks up at Cynthia and nods, carefully. "Ra!"

"Celeste, then." Cynthia's fond smile grows. "Let's go see what the kids are up to, then, shall we?"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

She's scarcely walked out of the center, naturally, when a certain blonde-haired boy sprints right into her, sending them both flying to the ground. Cynthia sighs and gets up, dusting herself off and internally being quite glad of the fact that she'd returned Celeste to her ball for now.

"Oh! Shit, sorry, Diana," Barry blurts, the Buizel at his heels making an apologetic noise as well. Then he pauses. "Wait, shit. Diana?? Hey, where have you been? I haven't seen you around in ages!"

"That is... probably because you sprinted off to Hearthome before most of your friends had even beaten the gym?" Cynthia guesses. She leans in to look more closely at the the Buizel, and waves. "Hey, little guy! Aren't you a cutie?"

"Bui!" Barry's Buizel certainly seems to agree with that assessment.

"Yes, he is, and he's gonna kick your ass," Barry says firmly. "I challenge you, Diana! I'm gonna win this time! Four on... wait, do you have four pokemon?"

"Five," Cynthia says, and on the one hand Celeste isn't exactly battle-ready yet, but on the other, she suddenly very much understands the urge people have to show off shiny pokemon now that she apparently has one of her own. "Is four on four alright?"

"Fine by me," Barry declares, pulling a pokeball from his belt. "Zip, I choose you!"

And—ah, that's his Staravia. Not a Staraptor yet, it seems. Well, she'd been meaning to send out Maelstrom first anyway, and she isn't going to change that decision now. "Maelstrom, go. Bubble—"

"Double Team!" Barry shouts.

"—beam." Cynthia grimaces as the attack misses entirely, and briefly, if not at all seriously, considers smacking a child.

"Shit, my strategy's actually working against you?" Barry pauses as his brain catches up to his mouth. "I mean, haha, of course my brilliant new strategy is working against you!"

"...what is it, annoy the other trainer to death?" Cynthia says, not unkindly.

"Uh. No. Keep using Double Team, Zip!" Barry grins. "It's simple! Make sure none of the enemy's attacks hit you, and make sure all of your attacks hit the enemy! It's foolproof!"

"Not necessarily. Bubblebeam, again." This time, thankfully, the beam of bubbles actually hit their intended target. "Some opponents are going to have moves that will always hit their target. And even without that, sometimes you'll just get unlucky. What will you do then?"

"I'll..." Barry's grin fades a little. "I'll hit 'em harder. Zip, use Endeavor!"

Cynthia's pretty sure one of her eyes twitches. "Bubblebeam. Please."

Maelstrom gets lucky. Incredibly so—it's not just a hit, but a critical one. The Staravia hits the ground, thoroughly stunned, and Barry recalls him with a visible grimace and a bitter mutter of, "Fuck! Okay. Uhhh. Rapid, your turn!"

With a name like Rapid, Cynthia's half-expecting the Buizel watching in awe to leap out into the fray. But the Buizel stays put, and instead Barry throws out a—is that a Roselia? That is a Roselia, which doesn't exactly fit Barry's speedy image and also makes Cynthia's heart ache for Rosaceae in particular. 

It's closer to nine months than ten, now. Just nine months to go—and it's been nearly three months since she's seen her team, her friends, her family. She misses them. So, so much.

And then she blinks, and the Roselia that isn't hers has set a Leech Seed on Maelstrom, and—oh, oh that's a Stun Spore isn't it. Yeah, Maelstrom isn't going to be in this fight for much longer, but the least Cynthia can do...

"Peck," Cynthia orders, blinking hard. If anyone asks, she caught something in her eye. That's all.

Peck does a good deal, but not enough—not when Barry's Roselia knows Mega Drain. With Maelstrom down, the obvious choice against a grass-type would be Lunare, and she is going to need some more experience to take on Fantina.

But.

But.

Roselia isn't just a grass-type, as Cynthia herself found out the hard way early on in her first journey. Roselia is also a poison-type. And, while Cynthia isn't often the type to show off... she'd be lying if she said she didn't want to, here.

She finds Celeste's ultra ball, instead, and chucks it at the battlefield. The Ralts comes out with a cheerful cry.

"Is—is that a fucking shiny," Barry blurts.

"Her name's Celeste," Cynthia says cheerfully. "Now, Celeste? Why don't you use Confusion?"

With a cheerful cry of "ra," Celeste is all too happy to oblige. With a bit more experience, that might take out a poison-type like Rapid. Freshly out of the tall grass, however, one burst of psychic energy, no matter how powerful, isn't quite enough.

Still blinking in confusion like he's the one who was hit by the attack, Barry recovers before too long and shouts, "Rapid, hit 'em with your best Leech Seed!"

"Dodge it," Cynthia calls, but to no avail. Celeste makes a heartbroken little noise, stumbling back as some of her own energy is sucked away into the Roselia, and Cynthia's heart goes out to the little pokemon. "It's okay. Finish them! One more Confusion."

Nodding faintly, Celeste raises her arms once more, surrounding herself once more with faint pink psychic energy. It's nowhere near the potence of a capital-P Psychic attack, but it'll do, and it does. And Barry's next pokemon is that excitable little Buizel, rubbing his paws together in visible glee before leaping onto the battlefield himself.

Apparently he's named Swift. And—yes, that Leech Seed is still active, and Barry hadn't explicitly specified no substitutions, so Cynthia decides to bite the metaphorical Bullet Seed for now and bring Celeste back. She pulls out the ultra ball wordlessly, sends out the recall beam, and—

"Swift, Pursuit!" Barry orders, and oh no. The recall beam hits, and so does the attack, and—yes, Celeste is very much down for the count.

"You did well," Cynthia tells the ultra ball, because she did very well, as did Maelstrom. But this does mean she and Barry are evenly matched in pokemon down now, and they can't have that. Corundum would be at a massive disadvantage, Lunare would be equally vulnerable to Pursuit, so that leaves... "Milady, your turn."

Barry's Buizel chirps a greeting. Milady takes immediate offense to this and turns to glare at Cynthia, who really should be more used to this by now but in her defense! In her defense, it's been years since she's had to train a pokemon that hated her, and she's not sure Banshee ever hated her so much as just had far too much fun messing with her.

Cynthia sighs. "Frustration."

The low growl Milady makes as she bodily tackles the Buizel into the ground certainly sounds frustrated, and for a few short moments Cynthia and Barry both think she's taken the other pokemon out in one hit. 

"Oh no," Barry says, trying to peer through the dust cloud kicked up. "Uh. Swift. If you're still up for fighting, you think you could hit her with a Quick Attack?"

"BUI," comes a desperate cry, and the Buizel tackles Milady right back out of the dust cloud as it clears. Milady spits something back at it.

"Cut," Cynthia calls, though she's... reasonably certain that Milady would have gone in for the knockout regardless of what Cynthia had asked her to do. Swift the Buizel, though determined, ultimately falters here.

Barry grimaces and recalls him. But his next pokeball... he looks at it, and laughs. "Nice Buneary you've got there, Diana!"

"Thank you?" Cynthia says warily.

"Sure would be a shame if my MONFERNO happened to it! Rush, finish her!"

To be completely honest, Cynthia's pretty sure that her Buneary would have been knocked out from that attack even if Barry's Buizel hadn't already weakened her. She takes a deep breath, recalls Milady, and sends out her final pokemon. It's a fairly obvious choice. Corundum, after all, would be vulnerable to the very same attacks Milady was.

Lunare, on the other hand, has the added benefit of psychological warfare on a thirteen-year-old boy.

"You!" Barry looks like Lunare's personally beaten him up and left him in a ditch to die. He points both hands at Lunare and shouts, "I remember you, you smug bastard of a... uh, what pokemon are you again..."

"Drifloon," Cynthia supplies helpfully, hiding a smile.

"Drifloon! Yeah. You, you're going down, uh..."

"Lunare."

"Lunare! You're going down. Rush, we've learned our lesson, FLAME WHEEL!"

Rush complies with a yell, calling flames to his fists before leaping up into the air and punching, hard. Lunare takes the hit—and the resulting burn—like a champ. She turns back to Cynthia and makes a burbling noise, as if to ask, now?

"Go for it," Cynthia says, no longer bothering to hide her smile. "Use Gust."

To be perfectly honest, Cynthia had expected Lunare's attack not to completely take out the Monferno, and she's not disappointed when the pokemon's still standing, if swaying uncertainly. But Barry grits his teeth and calls out another attack, and so does Cynthia, and—

And she's won.

That was... far closer than she thought it would be. Barry's definitely improved. Her team is going to need a lot more training in order to be anything approaching ready for Fantina's gym, though.

"Gods dammit, I thought I had you that time," Barry exclaims, returning his final pokemon. "I'm going to win next time, though."

"That's what you said last time," Cynthia points out. "But I look forward to seeing you try."

This kid—all three of the kids, really—are going to make her days at the Pokemon League incredibly fun, that's for certain. All she has to do is make sure the world doesn't end first, and... make sure none of them turn out like Cyrus did.

(Though the fact that none of them, as far as she's aware, have parents like theirs should go a long way.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste

PKMN Trainer Barry
Rush - Zip - Rapid - Swift

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Considering how much trouble the Hearthome Gym gave her on her original journey, and the fact that while the gym's leader has changed, the gym's typing has not, Cynthia thinks that training somewhat obsessively all day, every day, for at least a few weeks is a perfectly reasonable decision.

Unfortunately for her, Cheryl strongly disagrees. Which is how Cynthia finds herself in the audience for a contest spectacular of all things, watching as the kids prance around onstage with their pokemon and varying amounts of enthusiasm, and thinking about anything but Barry and his Buizel attempting to breakdance with somewhat limited success.

"Did you eat today," Cheryl asks, in a whisper, as the lead dancers become Lucas and his Kadabra. One of those two is considerably better at moving to the beat than the other, and it isn't Lucas.

Cynthia gives her an affronted look. In an equally low voice, she responds, "What do you take me for? Of course I did."

"Really?" Even in the low light of the audience, Cheryl looks... skeptical. "What did you have?"

"How do you expect me to remember —"

"SHHH," someone on Cheryl's other side hisses, pressing a finger to her lips.

"Sorry." Cynthia opens her poketch, sets it to the lowest possible brightness setting, and types out, how do you expect me to remember what I ate for breakfast?

Cheryl narrows her eyes. After a few moments of hurried typing, she displays her own poketch screen in return: C, it's 4 PM.

Cynthia gives her a look and types back: I got up fairly late. I ate breakfast at lunchtime.

Did you? When that message alone doesn't get a satisfactory response, Cheryl visibly rolls her eyes, erases her message, and types a new one: and since when have you ever NOT gotten up at least somewhat early?

Since I stopped traveling with you, actually.  

Sinnoh's Pokemon League officially opens its doors to challengers at nine o'clock sharp, and closes them at five, but unofficially, anything after four is just to finish up any last challenges. As for Cynthia herself, no one usually makes it to her until around eleven, so she's... perhaps... gotten into the habit of sleeping in more than she should so long as no one makes it past Flint (in which case she can make it to the Pokemon League well before any challenger can make it past the entirety of Lucian's Elite team.)

Cheryl does not seem to buy this. Cynthia erases her message and types, I haven't been a morning person in a while, Cheryl.

"Ohhh. Probably not since—" The old woman on Cheryl's other side shushes her again, louder this time, and for a few moments Cynthia thinks her friend may have finally cracked but Cheryl instead takes a deep breath and types, That's fine, you know I've never been one. I just have one more question.

Go for it.

Was it a granola bar?

Cynthia opens her mouth to protest, then quickly shuts it again. She types NO in the notes app, bolds it, and underlines it for good measure. And then she erases that and types up an admission of a different kind: it was two.

Her friend looks disappointed but not surprised in the slightest. PLEASE tell me you've been eating actual food since you became champion?

I reserve things like granola bars and trail mix for when I'm on the road.

Answer the question, Cheryl types with a surprising amount of vehemence. Onstage, Lucas's turn is over, and now it's Dawn's time to shine with her—Togetic? 

Alright, Cynthia may have fully intended to not pay attention to this any more than she had to out of respect for the kids having fun—and they clearly are having fun, it's not their fault the contest hall holds some bad memories she'd rather not relive—but that's definitely new. Apparently, at some point in the past few weeks, Dawn had not only hatched that egg but the resulting Togepi had already evolved.

Cynthia indicates the Togetic onstage and asks, did you know her egg hatched?

Mhm, comes the response. She wanted it to be a surprise. Actually, she tried to get you to come yourself, but I'm not sure you even noticed she was asking. So I took matters into my own hands.

Thanks, Cynthia types back, and sits back to enjoy the rest of the show. She'd been... very strongly encouraged by some people here to try out contests right after her Milotic evolved. It... hadn't gone so well, but at least the kids are having fun now, and it looks somewhat less complicated from the audience than it had from backstage.

It's after the show, actually, that things get complicated. There's a woman already talking to Dawn and Barry, a woman with dark hair and light eyes with a striking resemblance to Dawn.

"Is that... her mom?" Cheryl asks quietly.

"I literally do not know, I met her a little bit after she'd already started her journey," Cynthia says quietly. Still, it isn't hard to tell that the woman who is probably Dawn's mom is congratulating them both, even from a distance.

"Thank you, Ms. Johanna!" Barry says with a grin. He leans down to give his Buizel a high five. "We did great, didn't we, Swift?"

(Cynthia is pretty sure he and Swift placed dead last, actually, but the important thing is that they had fun.)

"You certainly had a... memorable performance," Johanna agrees, sounding suspiciously like she's trying to think of literally anything complimentary to say. Fortunately, Barry doesn't seem to notice. "And... that boy up there with you... who is he?"

"Oh, that's Lucas," Dawn supplies, as her Togetic takes a seat on top of her hat. "He's the professor's assistant we told you about. He's cool!"

"I... see," Johanna says slowly. "Dawn, honey. Do you happen to know—"

"Um, hi!" And there's Lucas, his Kadabra floating along behind him, holding the ribbon he'd barely won over Dawn. Though he looks at Johanna, and... stops. "Who's this?"

"Oh! Hey, Lucas," Dawn says with a grin. "Lucas, this is my mom! She used to do a lot of contests. Aaaand then she had me. Mom, are you going to start doing contests again now that you don't have to worry about me anymore?"

Johanna shrugs. "Well, I—suppose I could—"

"Ha! Competition for you, oh contest master."

"I-I'm not a contest master," Lucas protests.

"Lucas," Johanna says. "Is your father a man with dark hair, thick glasses, and a remarkable tendency to sleepwalk?"

"Um... that's... a concerningly accurate description, yes? You know him?"

"Unfortunately."

"Mom, what's this about?" Dawn asks. The Togetic on her shoulder cocks its head to the side in a mimicry of its trainer's confusion.

"Dawn, when is your birthday?"

"...Mom?"

"Humor me. Please."

"November 19th?"

Lucas's eyes go wide. "Wait, what? That's... my birthday???"

"What the fu—" Dawn's gaze flicks over to her mom. "—udge?"

"There's... no easy way to put this." Johanna looks between the two kids, sighs, and says, "You're twins."

"...I feel like maybe we should find something else to do," Cynthia says quietly, looking at Cheryl. Neither the kids nor Dawn's mom—Lucas's mom too, apparently—seem to have noticed them yet. "Elsewhere."

"That is a good plan," Cheryl agrees, backing away slowly towards the front doors of the contest hall. "And you are eating something more than granola bars and trail mix if I have to make Charybdis give you her best lillipup eyes to do it."

It's a testament to how much Cynthia wants to leave the kids to hash this out themselves that she doesn't even try to argue. She just nods, and takes Cheryl by the hand, and power walks towards the doors as fast as she dares. Once they're outside, she mutters, "Well, I certainly didn't predict that."

"Me neither," Cheryl agrees, glancing around for a moment—they're alone. "So, um. Cynthia."

Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "Yes...?"

"I was thinking... maybe... we could—"

"Hi!" Barry blurts, bursting out after them. He drops his hands to his knees with an audible sigh of relief, his Buizel all too happy to jump up and pat his back. "Thank you so much for leaving, I... haha, wow, the groupchat is going to be very interesting tonight that's for sure but IIII think that maybe the nerds should figure this out without me there. Since, y'know, I know who both of my parents are and neither of them are her."

"It was... a pretty awkward situation." Cheryl drops her hand. When Cynthia glances at her, her face is bright red.

"Are you alright?" Cynthia asks her.

"I—yes, I'm fine." Cheryl coughs lightly into a closed fist. "It's just... a-allergies."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"I think today is a good day for you to get your next badge," Cheryl says, seemingly completely out of the blue. 

"Um. No," Cynthia replies automatically. She looks at Barry for backup and—oh, wait, the gym's right here, that's why Cheryl brought it up. "I'm not ready."

"Uhhhh... is there something I'm missing here?" Barry says. "Besides who you are, I mean, I kinda just... saw Diana and went okay, better than nothing because Dawn's mom is nice and all but she's. A lot."

Cheryl snorts lightly. "Oh, believe me, I get that. I'm Cheryl. I'm an old friend of Diana's."

Barry blinks. "Oh. Well, uh, I'm Barry. You getting badges too?"

"No, I've got all eight of mine."

"Whoa! Awesome! Hey, can I battle y—"

"I may not be the best at battling, but I'm not that bad at battling." Cheryl laughs to herself. "You would lose."

Cynthia, distinctly remembering the somewhat glaring weaknesses on her old team, decides that now is a good time to inform her, "He has a Monferno."

"Well, it's not an Infernape yet, is it?"

"Monferno evolves into Infernape?" Barry gasps. "That's awesome! I had no idea! How much longer do we have?"

"I... also have no idea," Cynthia says. Maybe if she doesn't bring back up the gym Cheryl will forget about it, at least for long enough that she can train properly for it. "The only trainer I know with one already had his Infernape when I met him."

"Can't ya ask?"

Cynthia grimaces. "No."

Not currently, at any case. Not for another nine months. She's sure Flint would be happy to answer, particularly given just how uncommon fire-types are in Sinnoh and how excited he'd be to hear that someone else started with (presumably) a Chimchar. The issue is, well, her. She can't exactly text him or it would come up on Prime's poketch, Flint probably wouldn't answer some random trainer, and if she doffed her disguise, he'd probably bring it up with Prime later, and that would be... really bad.

Another item for the rapidly growing list of things to do once all this is over: start up board game night again. Though maybe Monopoly should be left to gather dust in the closet where it belongs, given what happened last time.

There are other board games.

All of a sudden, Cheryl clears her throat, and walks around to stop Cynthia from walking any further. "Barry, back me up here. She has done plenty of training for the gym. She should at the very least make an attempt to see how much more she needs."

"Uh," Barry looks a little bit like a deerling in headlights. "You... actually don't think you're ready for the gym, Diana?"

"Not yet," Cynthia says quietly. "Maybe in a few more days, but—"

"Are you fucking nuts? You beat me! After I beat the gym!"

"You beat the gym already?"

"Mhm!" Barry pulls his badge case out and flips it open proudly. There's the Relic Badge, gleaming like it's been polished recently alongside the Forest Badge from Gardenia and the Coal Badge from Roark. "Day before any of you got here, actually. But I was getting lonely, so I figured I should wait for the others."

"That is a good idea," Cheryl agrees. "You never know what Team Galactic might be up to, and I wouldn't want to face them alone."

Barry laughs. "Please. I could handle them! They don't seem that scary."

"I—" Cheryl buries her face in her hands. "Azelf, grant me the patience to... They never do, until someone gets hurt!"

"Consider: if I'm strong enough, I won't get hurt."

"That's what she said..."

"Who?"

Cynthia clears her throat awkwardly. "And that is why we don't go after terrorists alone. You're welcome to grab me if I'm in the area, Barry, I'm always willing to help."

At that, Cheryl gives Cynthia a look —she's clearly under no illusions as to who else she was referring to—but before she can say anything, her poketch starts ringing. Cheryl raises an eyebrow, looks at the screen, and her mouth forms an 'o.' "I'd better take this. Be right back."

She walks a short distance away, and Barry asks, "So, why don't you want to take on the gym? You afraid of ghosts or something?"

"I... have a ghost on my team, Barry," Cynthia points out. 

"You're dodging the question."

"No! Of course I'm not afraid of ghosts!" Although maybe she should be. "I just don't want to lose. That's all."

"Oh." Barry considers this. "Is that how you got to Eterna first and I still beat the gym before you?"

"...maybe."

"Y'know, if you spend all your money on healing items and snacks before the gym, losing doesn't really matter. And you can challenge it over and over again. I know that from experience."

"Of course." 

Cynthia does not know that from personal experience, but from the fact that it had been her decision. It was... a fairly controversial one, to put it lightly, to let trainers just keep throwing themselves at the gym over and over, but she had left to up to the leader's discretion in the end. And so far, it's worked out pretty well, she thinks. It certainly beats having to wait a full week between attempts.

"So what's the issue?" Barry asks.

"It's..." Something she can't actually tell him. She's the region's champion, so what does it say about her if she can't even handle a gym on her first attempt? Nothing good, that's for sure. "Different for me."

"Why? No, seriously—what is so wrong with having to try again? Assuming you really aren't ready, which! I think you are!"

Maybe she is. Maybe she isn't. But...

...but the only person who would know why she absolutely has to beat the gyms as fast as possible is Cheryl, and she's been encouraging her to at least try before training more. No one else knows her as anything more than Diana, and... what reason does Diana have to not try?

Diana has absolutely no good reason to not try, does she.

"Okay, so... slight issue," Cheryl says, rejoining them. She elbows Cynthia lightly. "You remember Myth?"

Cynthia nods. She remembers that particular pokemon very well. "What is she up to now?"

"Getting frisky at the day care."

Barry snorts. "I'm thirteen, you can just say they fucked."

Looking Barry dead in the eyes, Cheryl continues, completely deadpan, "A mysterious egg appeared out of nowhere, we have no idea where it came from, oh no, whatever could have happened. Anyway, I'd... better go take care of that, so: Barry."

"...what."

"Can you make sure she actually makes an attempt at the gym while I'm gone? I know she can handle it, she just needs that little push in the door."

Barry grins, and gives her a mock salute. "Dist yeah, I can do that."

Cheryl smiles faintly. "Thank you."

"I'm right here, you know," Cynthia points out.

"I know." Cheryl turns her smile on Cynthia, and it grows a little. "I believe in you. Alright?"

"Alright," Cynthia says faintly. "Um. Take care."

“You too.”

She walks off, humming to herself. Cynthia watches her go. Once she's out of earshot, she turns to Barry and asks, "Have you ever had a poffin?"

"No, actually," Barry says thoughtfully. "I thought those were just for pokemon? Humans can eat them?"

"They don't strengthen humans like they do pokemon, but yes. And I did promise Lunare some time ago that I'd at least attempt to make her some, so we should just head down to the poffin hall—"

"Nice try," Barry says, looping his arm around hers and dragging her up to the gym door. "I'm curious about poffins, but not that curious. They can be victory poffins. Are you going to get in there yourself, or do I need to shove you in and lock the door behind you?"

Cynthia grimaces. "Please don't do that. I'll go inside myself."

And, taking a deep breath, she does.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

The gym puzzle in the Hearthome Gym at first glance does almost appear the same as it had been years ago, but it becomes fairly obvious fairly quickly that it's meant to provide a choice to the challenger. If they intend to simply barge through, they'll almost certainly attract the attention of some of the gym trainers and have to battle, or if they're careful, they can make it all the way to the end without fighting anyone before the gym leader herself.

Cynthia, personally, is partial to option number three: seek out all the gym trainers before actually attempting to solve the puzzle, because there is really no such thing as too much training and there are technically no rules against leaving the gym to make a run to the pokemon center at any time. It means her challenge will be that much longer, but it also means she's going into the final battle with Fantina with fresh pokemon, and that is well worth the wait.

"Bonjour," Fantina greets as she steps through the final door. Her Kalosian accent is fainter than the last time Cynthia spoke with her, but not by much. "Might I ask how many badges you have currently, challenger?"

"Two," Cynthia says. "Soon to be three, and I'll, um... be right back. Unrelated question, are spectators allowed here?"

"That... depends?" Fantina frowns uncertainly. "Do your friends intend on fighting me themselves?"

"Just one, and he already has? At least, I hope he already has. Blonde boy, very fast—"

"Oui, I remember him." Fantina chuckles to herself. "Very... passionate, yes."

"Good to know. I will be right back." And Cynthia spins on her heel and goes right back out the door she'd come in through. Thanks to the wide and oftentimes confusing applications of warptech, she does not end up in the room she just came in from, but instead the very frontmost room of the gym. Where Barry is waiting by the door, leaning against the wall alongside his Roserade.

"That was fast," Barry says, glancing down at his pokemon, who shrugs. "So you beat the gym, got your badge, and now we can go get poffins, right?"

"Haven't fought her yet," Cynthia clarifies. "I'm—don't give me that look, I'm going to the pokemon center and then I'll be right back."

"You'd better be! Or I'm siccing Rapid on you."

Rapid nods firmly, trying his best to look as intimidating as a rather short creature with roses for hands can. "Selllllia."

"I've been poisoned by a Roserade and lived, Rapid does not scare me," Cynthia says matter-of-factly. "Like I said: I will be right back."

"You've what," Barry blurts, but she's fled out the gym's front door before he can ask for further clarification. A few minutes later, she returns, and he says, "Hold on, what do you mean you got poisoned by—"

"A Roserade. And lived. Personally, I don't recommend trying it yourself, I had to go to the emergency room. Now, are you going to continue questioning my past life decisions, or are you ready for Milady and I to show you how it's done?"

"Wh—I— what," Barry stammers. "I thought you didn't think you were ready? For the gym? I am not going to unpack the Roserade thing right now."

"That was before taking on the gym trainers," Cynthia says with a grin. "Leaders have other trainers employed at their gyms for a reason... mostly paperwork, but also, fighting them is a good way to gauge how prepared you are for the gym itself and is far less boring than paperwork."

Barry stares at her for a moment. "Fucking Dialga, that's why you know so much about gyms and badges and pokemon training."

At the mention of Dialga, Cynthia stiffens. "Um. Sorry?"

"You used to be a gym leader in some other region, didn't you!" Barry says triumphantly. He high-fives his Roselia—with somewhat limited success, given that the pokemon's hands are flowers. "Or at least you used to work at one—"

"I didn't," Cynthia says, before it occurs to her that playing along with this might have actually been a better idea.

"...really? Dammit." Barry makes finger guns as he pushes himself off the wall with his foot. "I'm going to figure you out eventually, Diana."

"That's nice." Cynthia hopes she can at least make it a few more months before he does. Ideally nine or ten. "Speaking of the gym, I asked Fantina if she was alright with spectators, and—"

"Oh, fuck yeah," Barry says. "Good luck!"

Fantina, once Cynthia makes it back to her, doesn't even bat an eye at Barry's appearance. She's got a pokeball in hand, and a winning smile on her face, and asks, "Are you ready now, cherie?"

Cynthia blinks, reaching for a pokeball of her own. "I'm sorry?"

"Ah, it's nothing." Fantina's smile grows—why does it feel like she knows something she shouldn't?—and she tosses the pokeball up into the air before catching it again. "I trust you know the rules? You have two badges thus far, so I shall use three pokemon. You may use up to three. No substitutions are allowed, unless of course it's caused by a move—though I've found challengers rarely do that, non?"

"Moves like Roar?" Barry asks, looking thoughtful.

"Don't you dare," Cynthia mutters. "You gave me enough of a headache with Double Team and Endeavor."

Fantina chuckles lightly to herself. "The second of those two isn't a problem should your pokemon be immune to it, you know."

"So in other words, next time I battle you, I'm bringing out Lunare," Cynthia decides, and Barry groans.

"Never mind. Ignore me. You kicked my ass as is, no thank you." Barry says with a nervous grin.

Looking very much amused by the implications she'd have no context whatsoever for, Fantina laughs lightly to herself before clearing her throat. "Ah, now, where was I... no healing items, save those that your pokemon are already holding, I believe that is everything...?"

"That... sounds like what Roark and Gardenia told me, yes," Cynthia says.

"Merci! In that case..." She throws her pokeball up high into the air. "Let the match begin!"

And Cynthia does the same. "Lunare, go!"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Her original plan had been to send out Milady first, bring out Lunare second, and choose a third pokemon if necessary based on whatever else Fantina had—but definitely not Celeste, not for a gym full of ghosts. And then Lunare learned Ominous Wind, and Cynthia decided to take a gamble.

"Oh, a lovely little Drifloon," Fantina says approvingly—and unsurprisingly, given both Cynthia's own experience with her and the credit she's been given in the Sinnoh Pokedex. "Tres bien! I do hope you know, however, that ghosts do not fare well against each other... Noire? Shadow Sneak."

"Ominous Wind, now!" Cynthia shouts, but the Duskull—Noire, sounds vaguely like the Kalosian word for darkness?—is faster. She disappears, emerging from the shadow Lunare casts upon the ground, and strikes, fast and hard. Lunare falters, but nevertheless calls up a gust of wind that makes all present shiver.

Noire goes down in a single hit. That's definitely a good thing, given that using Ominous Wind over and over is far from sustainable. Fantina clicks her tongue, recalls her fainted Duskull, and sends out— "Spectre, it is your turn, cherie!" —a Haunter.

"One more time, Ominous—"

"Sucker Punch," Fantina says with a devilish glimmer in her eyes.

Spectre curls her hands into fists and, flickering from sight, she reappears just in front of Lunare and punches, knocking her several feet past Cynthia in the air . It's super effective, because of course it is. But Lunare isn't down yet. There's a faint hissing sound that does not sound like a good sign, and then she calls up one more Ominous Wind.

"Lunare, are you... do you need to come back?" Cynthia asks seriously.

"Floo," Lunare says, determined. As Cynthia watches, she reaches up to the cloudlike floof atop her balloon and withdraws the Sitrus Berry she'd stashed there, pressing it into her body and consuming it one way or another.

"Right." Cynthia glances back at Fantina. The other woman is studying her, waiting for her to make a move. Planning another Sucker Punch, most likely. Cynthia can work around that, at least once—because Lunare is faster, now. "Stockpile!"

"Sucker Punch!" Fantina's eyes widen as it fully registers what Cynthia had ordered. "Wait, non?"

Lunare doesn't even attempt to attack this time. She concentrates, charging up power and making it that much harder to knock her out. As for Sucker Punch? As a rule, Cynthia prefers moves that directly deal damage, but in a situation like this, it calls for something a bit less direct.

(Why not experiment a little, when the eyes of the region aren't on her, after all?)

"Ominous Wind, quick," Cynthia calls.

"Shadow—" Claw, or Punch, would be Cynthia's guess, except that the second Ominous Wind brings the Haunter down. Fantina makes an impressed noise, and recalls her second pokemon. "Well done! But how, I wonder, will you react to this? Melodie, come forth! Confuse Ray."

"Ominous Wind," Cynthia says, carefully keeping track of how many more times Lunare can do that at all. Lunare is faster, yes, but then the confusion hits her, and she starts floating a little off to the side in midair. "...oh no."

"Melodie, Shadow Ball!"

Fantina's final pokemon is—to Cynthia's mild surprise—not a Drifloon or Drifblim, but a Mismagius. A Mismagius who, it seems, shares a quite similar personality to her trainer, for she twirls briefly in midair before sending her Shadow Ball flying directly into Lunare's face.

There's that faint hissing noise again. Cynthia has a few guesses as to what that is, if it's coming from her pokemon, and none of them are good. That, coupled with the confusion... "Lunare, you did incredibly well. Return."

"Floo," Lunare says miserably before the beam hits her. Cynthia already had plans to get poffins afterwards, but Lunare definitely deserves them for taking out two of Fantina's three pokemon, and dealing a fair amount of damage to the third. Except—as Cynthia pulls out Milady's pokeball—the Mismagius too pulls out a berry and nibbles at it delicately.

"...you know what, I shouldn't be surprised that your pokemon has one of those too," Cynthia mutters, but there's nothing she can—or should —do about it. Nothing she can do but win. "Milady, your turn. Let's end this."

"Bun-bun!" Milady chirps, drawing her knife—and then she sees the ghost in front of her, makes a very displeased hiss, and puts the knife away.

"Oooh, how interesting... my strongest moves will do nothing to you, but neither will yours," Fantina says cheerfully, completely ignoring the fact that the Buneary has a knife. (She's probably seen stranger in contests.) "I do hope you have something to work around that, because I most certainly do. Melodie, Psybeam!"

Surrounded by a pink glow, the Mismagius fires a beam of light and psychic energy at Milady. The Buneary lets out a low growl, and stands her ground.

"I do indeed," Cynthia says simply. The coy smile on Fantina's face is, as it turns out, quite infectious, and she finds herself mirroring it as she orders, "Milady, Grass Knot."

"...Grass Knot," Fantina replies, no longer looking impressed. "You... are aware that Mismagius, like most ghost-types, is very light, correct?"

"That was just a warm-up," Cynthia says instead of admitting she'd forgotten that minor detail. "Fortunately, that wasn't the only preparation we made for your gym. Milady? Foresight, and then do what you do best."

"Fore —oh dear."

It had been a surprise, yes, but a very much welcome one to find someone willing to reteach moves that her Buneary had theoretically known at some point before being captured. And, while Cynthia is under no illusions about Milady actually liking her, lately it's seemed like Milady has at least grown to tolerate her, so Frustration was forgotten in favor of something a bit more useful for what was coming.

"Confuse Ray, quickly, now," Fantina says, realizing now what her challenger's strategy is.

It hits. Milady growls low, and draws her knife once more, and shakes her head quickly in an attempt to snap out of the confusion.

"I just need one solid hit," Cynthia says. "One solid hit, and it's over for her. CUT!"

Tottering unsteadily, Milady nevertheless charges—and hits. And suddenly, it is all over. Barry's whooping from the sidelines, Fantina's smiling at her in a way that should not make her heart skip a beat and pressing a shiny new badge into her hand—even Milady chuffs proudly and doesn't attempt to stab Fantina when the leader reaches in to pet her.

It's progress, Cynthia thinks. It's definitely progress. And then, without any kind of warning, Lunare's pokeball snaps open, and the Drifloon within starts to glow and grow and change.

"Tres magnifique," Fantina breathes as the newly evolved Drifblim burbles happily. "And well fought to all three of you."

"Thank you," Cynthia says breathlessly. She looks at her Buneary and her Drifblim, grins fondly, and says, "Now that's settled... I owe you two some poffins."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"So," Barry says, shifting anxiously from foot to foot.

"So...?" Cynthia asks, raising an eyebrow. "I promise it's not that intimidating in there. You participated in a contest, making poffins is far easier and much lower-stakes. Less people to laugh at you if you royally mess up."

"That does not make me feel better," Barry mutters. "I know I wasn't that great, but Swift was, and nobody laughed at us."

"More courteous than they used to be." Cynthia shrugs. "Or possibly I was just unlucky. In any case, Poffins... are difficult to make well, but they're even harder to ruin so badly that they're inedible. That being said, if you wouldn't eat it yourself, don't give it to your pokemon."

"And you're sure they're safe for us to eat?"

"Positive," Cynthia says. "Assuming they're not... well, we should get to it, but if your poffins are visibly burnt you shouldn't eat them and neither should your pokemon."

Barry snorts. "You sound like the kind of person who cooks marshmallows the slow way."

"What do you mean, the slow way." Cynthia has a bad feeling that she might know. "Please tell me you don't—"

"Just putting a marshmallow on a stick and holding it next to the fire, instead of sticking it right in? Duh?"

"...you do." Cynthia looks at Maelstrom, who does not seem bothered. This is rapidly seeming like a worse and worse idea. "First of all, that's how you burn marshmallows—"

"They taste better that way!"

"They do not! Just—" Cynthia sighs. "I'll show you how I was taught to make them by someone who actually knew what they were doing, and then you're welcome to create whatever abominations you like on your own, but don't blame me if you or your mons get food poisoning. Come on."

She pulls open the door and, holding it for Maelstrom, walks inside. Barry exchanges a dubious look with his Monferno as the door shuts behind her, but he too comes in before too long. It's been a long time, but not so long that Cynthia doesn't still have some idea of how this place works.

"So long as you bring your own berries and clean up after yourself, you're welcome to do whatever you like," Cynthia says, heading over to an unoccupied table in a corner. She pulls out a mixing bowl from underneath the table and goes to get batter, only to return to a significantly less excited-looking Barry.

"I... don't have any berries," Barry says with a frown.

"I do. Keep an eye out for berry bushes on the road, they're everywhere—grass-types in particular seem to have a good eye for them." Cynthia pours the batter into the bowl, and takes a moment to remember what comes next. "Thoughts on spicy food?"

"Can't get enough of it."

Cynthia nods. "On that, we can agree wholeheartedly. Let's go with... a Cheri and an Oran, to start off. Keep things simple. Now, once I add the berries and turn the heat on, we're going to have to start stirring—"

"You're only adding two berries?"

"Yes. One per person—"

"Why? Wouldn't it taste better with more? Why not just use multiple of the same?"

"I... know there's a reason to not use multiple of the same berry, but I can't remember what it is, and I can't exactly ask the person who taught me to make poffins—"

"Why not?" Barry asks, and oh, he has no idea that the trainer who taught her to make poffins, who helped her figure out how to help Coronet evolve from a tiny, stubborn Feebas into a big, beautiful Milotic, who humored all her dumb questions and laughed it off with her when she wound up stirring so fast that the batter flew right out of the bowl, who very nearly gave up on pokemon training right then and there in favor of becoming a coordinator instead, will...

He has no idea.

(It's for the best that he never connects the trainer who taught her to make poffins with the leader of Team Galactic. The person she knew might as well be dead, anyway.)

"I just—can't," she says, closing her eyes. 

Barry actually looks concerned when she opens them again. He locks his poketch—from the split second glimpse Cynthia caught of it, he'd had it open to a messaging app she's not particularly familiar with—and grins. "Uh, gotcha. Let's make some poffins. So, berries go in—"

"One per person, it's... I think it gets harder to stir the more berries you add?"

"Oh." Barry blinks. "And we don't... peel them or anything?"

"Would you peel these to eat them?"

"No, but—"

"They're fine. Probably. Just... get rid of any excess stems or leaves or anything." Cynthia sets the berries on the table next to the mixer, then pulls out two wooden spoons from beneath the table, and makes note of where the power switch is. "Alright. I'm going to turn the heat on, and when I do, just—put the berries in."

"Put the berries in," Barry repeats, nodding. "Not the Barries, I'd have a few questions starting with why are there multiple mes and since when did I go in a poffin and—"

"Now," Cynthia says, leaning down and turning on the heat. There's two plops and a whisper of YEET from Barry, and by the time she's stood up again he's offering her the other spoon. "Alright. Now we stir—and be careful not to spill it, it's easiest to spill right after we start."

"Don't spill, got it—wh—hey, Diana, how could I even spill, this is hard to stir!"

"For one person." She puts some more oomph into it on her end, narrowing her eyes. "This is why we don't add more berries than there are people. And—uh, at some point? We're supposed to change directions?"

"What??? How in distortion —how do we know when to do that???"

"I don't know! They never told me!" But it's getting progressively harder to stir, so Cynthia shrugs and says, "Okay, let's—let's try going the other— SORRY!"

Barry blinks back at her with a faceful of batter. He licks the area around his lips and grins. "Yep, that's spicy alright!"

"It's also not done—"

"OH SHI—"

Unsurprisingly, the first attempt at poffins is a foul-smelling, badly burnt mess that all three taste-testers (Maelstrom the Prinplup, Rush the Monferno, Barry the... Barry) turn up their noses at. Barry mutters something about how the batter tasted better, and into the wastebin it goes.

The second attempt is, somewhat miraculously, not burnt at all. Far less miraculous is the fact that there's so little batter left from how much got spilled from Barry's semi-frantic stirring (and enlisting his Monferno to help) and so there's not even enough left for a single poffin. (In the end they just split it into four miniature poffins, which taste decent enough, they're just tiny.)

By the third attempt, Cynthia's all but given up on petty things such as restraint and just throws two Leppa berries in, because really, there's no way they'll actually make something halfway decent. Except—that time, they manage to do everything right. No spills, no burns, but—

But the resulting poffins look like something that came from a Bidoof's rear end.

"Tastes like it, too," Barry mutters, making a face.

Emptying the rest of the tray into the trash, Cynthia jokes, "How do you know what that tastes like?"

"Um," Barry says, turning a little pale.

"...Barry."

"Diana."

"Barry, what did you—"

"Okay, listen, I won't ask about the Roserade thing, you don't ask how I know that. Alright?"

Cynthia nods. "Seems reasonable enough. Alright."

"What Roserade thing?" Someone asks, and Cynthia turns to find herself face to face with—oh, that's Dawn's mom. And apparently Lucas's mom, as well. "Hi, sorry, we... haven't been introduced? I'm Johanna."

"Diana," Cynthia says, nodding. "Long, very boring story I'm sure you're not interested in."

"Nope. Super boring," Barry agrees. 

Johanna looks quizzically at Barry. "Okay... Well, I was going to teach Dawn and Lucas how to make poffins, but... erm..."

"You can say I'm terrible at it, it's alright," Cynthia says with a laugh. "It's been a very long time and the only reason I ever made anything passable was because I had a friend far better at it than I was. Though if you have any extra poffins that are actually edible, I've got a few pokemon I promised them to and I... don't really want to give them most of our results."

"Nope," Barry echoes. "I'm pretty sure that would do the opposite of improve their skills."

"...I... see," Johanna says. "All of your results were like that? That is... almost impressive, actually."

Cynthia snorts. "There are many reasons why I am not a coordinator and this isn't the biggest one."

"Well. Alright. We, ah... certainly can't have your pokemon starving, now, can we?"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

When you train your pokemon a lot and you're a teenager, they call you a prodigy. When you train your pokemon a lot and you're a young adult, they call you much less flattering if not exactly inaccurate things like obsessive and not taking care of yourself and really, Cynthia, would it kill you to take a break from training that I don't force you into?

Granted, by they she means Cheryl. Although she's quite certain that if their other friend who didn't turn up years after their presumed death to destroy the world was involved, he would probably be saying something along those lines too. Unlike Cheryl, however, he's a massive hypocrite and would absolutely be doing the same things if he was in this situation, so his attempts at guilting Cynthia into worrying about herself when she has an entire region to worry about first will not be anywhere near as effective.

Had he been involved later on? Cynthia wants to say his name was mentioned at some point, but at this point she won't know until it happens. So back to the matter at hand.

"Cynthia," Cheryl asks after a few minutes. "Where are we going?"

"You'll see," Cynthia says ominously. 

"...alright. As long as it's not training to stop our old friend from destroying the world, because if you don't take a break from that at some point, your body is going to make you!"

"I know." Cynthia glances back over her shoulder. "I promise this has nothing to do with training my new team. Or my old one, for that matter—"

"I feel like I could probably get the—um, other Cynthia, to lend me her pokemon for a day if—"

"Gods, I wish. Don't remember it. Don't want to cause a paradox."

Cheryl sucks in a breath. "Right. How do you know it would cause a paradox?"

"That's how paradoxes work."

"According to... what, all those bad movies you used to watch with Cyrus and—" Her breath catches in her throat. "Sorry. You probably don't want to talk about them right now, do you?"

"Honestly, I kind of do," Cynthia admits. "And now would be a better time than most, since the kids are busy. I just... don't really know where I'd even begin. You thought they were dead, too, and—"

"This is going to sound like a very out of the blue question, but I promise it's connected," Cheryl blurts. "Somewhat. Maybe. Not Really. I've just been, um, watching you walk for a while, and I just realized—you have heels on?"

"I... usually do, these days?"

"How in distortion —we're hiking through a cave up a mountain, Cynthia! How do you—what—"

"Practice and stubbornness." Cynthia looks back at her again and smiles. "That... is honestly how I approach most things, honestly."

"Oh, I know that, but—dear gods. Actually, no, I think the gods would probably live in fear of you at this point, which is kind of hilarious when you're less of a functional adult than I am, and..." She trails off. "What's that look for?"

"Have I not mentioned how I was sent back in time?"

"...if you have, I completely forgot about it, but I vaguely remember you saying something about Cyrus being responsible?" Cheryl pauses. "Wait. Don't tell me... Dialga?!"

"Palkia too." And to help with the way her heart starts pounding at the thought of going up there again, the thought she'd managed to avoid until now, she adds, "Next time I'm bringing a camera and taking pictures. Palkia stands on two legs, not four —they're right about Dialga, though, Dialga stands on all fours—"

"Cynthia," Cheryl says, her tone oddly flat. "Did our old, supposed-to-be-dead friend summon two gods?"

"They didn't just summon them. They... they wanted to remake the world. They were controlling the gods of time and space, somehow."

Cheryl runs a hand through her hair and just sighs. "Well, out of all the people I knew, they would be the most likely to summon a god... hmm, no, second most likely."

"Second? Who—"

"You."

"I—" Cynthia really wants to argue, but she thinks about it, and after a few moments she just keeps walking, quietly muttering, "You know what, that's—rude, but fair, I wouldn't summon the gods for something so stupid as destroying the world, though."

"Wait, you'd summon them for something else?!"

"I mean, if we really needed them for something else, yes! ...I'd take the opportunity to ask them some questions while they were here, though. And if I wasn't actively having to fight them—"

"Cynthia. Cynthia, I do not like these implications—"

"It's fine, I almost took down Palkia even with my pokemon tired from climbing the mountain, and I'm pretty sure they are a dragon-type! So." Cynthia clears her throat before Cheryl's visible concern can grow even more prominent and says, "Anyway, we're here! And it looks like we aren't too late."

"We're..." Cheryl pauses. "Cynthia, I hate to break it to you, but that... is a rock."

"I think that might be a pokemon, actually..." Cynthia takes a step forward, and the rock grows arms and opens eyes she hadn't seen and growls. She sighs, and sends out her own Graveler, and says, "Corundum, do you think you could communicate to the nice pokemon that we don't mean them any harm and we won't be here long?"

"Grav," Corundum says, and starts talking to the other one. The wild Graveler does not seem happy about this, but it moves aside for now, revealing...

"Oh. That's not a rock. Or a pokemon. I... think," Cheryl says uncertainly. "Unless that's a Ditto? I swear I've seen this somewhere before that wasn't here..."

"Not a Ditto, unless it's been here for a very long time," Cynthia clarifies. She pulls out a disposable camera from her bag and starts snapping pictures. "Just a cave painting. You've probably never seen this one before, but there's one exactly identical to it in the Celestic Ruins. They first discovered this one... around the time I set out from home, actually."

"Ooooh!" Cheryl takes a seat on a nearby rock, carefully checking to make sure it isn't another Graveler as she does, and looks up at her expectantly. "So... it's exactly the same as the one in Celestic Town?"

"Yes! And that's fascinating, because the current record for distance teleportation is held by someone's Alakazam in Kanto—I want to say his trainer is the psychic-type gym leader there?—and that isn't even close to how far away Celestic Town is from here. We just don't know how they did it. Not for sure, but there's a few decently viable theories."

Cheryl nods. "Like what?"

"Maybe the pokemon of the past—or even people, though I don't think distance teleportation was ever a thing humans were very good at—were just more powerful than the pokemon of today. Maybe a legendary pokemon was involved. Maybe it was multiple pokemon working together?" Cynthia shrugs. "There's one guy I shared a few classes with who is convinced that it was done by Smeargle replicating one or the other, and while that idea is certainly interesting he hasn't had much success in proving it, either."

"Smeargle? That's... wow. Where did he get that from?"

"He has one." Cynthia clears her throat and returns her attention to the cave painting. "Unfortunately, time's running out for this one. It was going to be moved in November, but..."

"...Cyrus?" Cheryl guesses. She pulls her legs up to her chest and hugs them tightly.

"Team Galactic, yes. There's... so, the Spear Pillar? It's a site sacred to Arceus, rumored to be hidden somewhere near the top of Mt. Coronet, there's some connection to the Hall of Origin..." Cynthia places a hand on the stone beside the painting, reverently, and ducks her head. "There's a passage up to the Spear Pillar hidden behind this painting. Cyrus found out about this somehow, and... sometime between now and October, they're going to smash it to get up there."

"Oh. I'm sorry—"

"No need to apologize, you didn't destroy an important piece of Sinnohan history because you couldn't wait a few weeks for it to be relocated somewhere safer for your world-ending plans," Cynthia mutters bitterly. "The least they could have done was... well, I guess they might have thought it wouldn't matter soon enough anyway, but I'm still furious about it. I'm furious about— quite a few things involving them at the moment."

"You aren't the only one," Cheryl whispers, looking away. "I'm still reeling from the fact that they've been—alive? This whole time? And they didn't tell any of us, they just... woke up one morning and decided alright, I'm going to fake my own death so I can destroy the world."

"I'm... not so sure that's how it happened." She takes a deep breath, and turns back to Cheryl. "I'm not sure what I hate more, the possibility that they did intend to fake their death, or... the possibility that they really did intend to die when we thought they did, and that they decided on Team Galactic when that... failed."

"Oh gods. That's..."

"Horrible," Cynthia finishes.

"You can say that again!"

"I still miss them even now, you know? Not sure how to feel about that at the moment." Cynthia leans her forehead against the cavern wall and closes her eyes. "But my feelings... I know, they do matter, but they're secondary to keeping Sinnoh in one piece. I'm the champion. I have a job to do, and I'll do it when the time comes."

"I know you will," Cheryl says softly. A hand comes to rest on Cynthia's back. "And no matter what happens, I promise—you won't have to do it alone."

Cynthia turns, and nearly starts crying. She settles for a watery smile instead and whispers, "Thank you. That means... far more than you know."

Smiling back, Cheryl says, "I know."

And, without any further ado or warning, Cheryl pulls her into a hug. There's a sudden weight against her leg, and Cynthia looks down to see Corundum too attempting to join, making a gentle rumbling sound as she does.

Alright. Cynthia's crying. She sniffles and says, even quieter, "Thank you. I... don't know what I'd do without you."

Cheryl snorts. "I'd say starve, but I think you would have by now, so I'll settle for just pushing yourself harder than even you can handle."

"You're not wrong," Cynthia mutters, "but hey."

"Hey yourself," Cheryl replies. "...oh! That reminds me. Hold on."

She retraces her steps to where she'd left her backpack on a rock, and pulls out—an egg? It's in an incubator, but Cynthia can feel the warmth from it as Cheryl presses it into her arms with a smile. The egg is brown, with a thick, jagged, cream-colored strike bisecting it down the middle. It bears a striking resemblance to an—

"Oh," Cynthia realizes, staring down at it. "You were not kidding about Myth, I see."

"Absolutely not." Cheryl snorts. "So, as it just so happens, I have an extra egg or two on hand, and I couldn't help but notice you only have five pokemon at the moment, so..."

"I'll take good care of them," Cynthia promises, hugging the egg close. "Cheryl, I... really can't thank you enough."

"The best thanks is letting go and living well."

"I'm... nearly certain that's supposed to be revenge."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Egg

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Eight months remain until the end of the world, if Cynthia can't succeed where she failed once. Eight months remain, and she hasn't even made Veilstone yet. This is partially because life on the road is not the greatest for an unhatched pokemon egg, partially because the kids all manage to get incredibly sidetracked with one thing or another in the general vicinity of Hearthome and she doesn't particularly want to leave them behind when Team Galactic could do any number of things she never heard about in the future, and partially because of the group of particularly feisty Psyduck that have taken up residence where the road from Hearthome splits towards Celestic Town in one direction and Veilstone City in the other.

...granted, said Psyduck are blocking the path to Celestic, not to Veilstone, but given how long it had taken Cynthia to deal with that exact group of Psyduck originally, she is not particularly optimistic about the path being cleared anytime soon. Which was quite the unpleasant surprise that really shouldn't have been a surprise when she finally worked up the nerve to go pay her grandmother a visit.

"In my defense," she mutters into her arms, glaring at Cheryl through a half-empty glass of Moomoo Milk, "I'm reasonably sure nobody told me about those Psyduck until at least a month from now. I didn't think they would be here this early! Gods, what if they aren't supposed to be here this early, what if time is unraveling because of me and—"

"Slow down there," Cheryl says, sounding far more amused than she has any right to be. She sets down her own glass, not bothering to wipe away her milk mustache. "You're spiraling again."

"I know," Cynthia mutters. 

"You know what I think you need?" Cheryl grins shyly, her eyes glittering with mischief, and—oh no. "You need some milk."

"Oh my gods," Cynthia replies. Nevertheless, she sits up, and picks up her glass of milk, and chugs the rest. "You got that from the kids, didn't you?"

"Maybe. Maybe I got it from the internet myself."

"Cheryl, you spent quite a lot of the time I was staying at your apartment complaining about the wifi or apologizing for if it wouldn't work."

"Yes, and? There are other places to access the internet than my apartment, Cynth —" She cuts herself off abruptly, gaze flicking to something behind her and amends, "Diana, please."

"Good afternoon, ladies—I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" Their server asks, and Cynthia turns to look at them.

"Um, nope," Cynthia says. "I'm pretty much done—I've got the bill, Cheryl, don't worry about it."

"You sure?" Frowning, Cheryl slides a hand over Cynthia's. "I mean, I-I don't mind!"

Cynthia snorts. "No, I dragged you into this mess, the least I can do is pay for your drink. Even if they don't sell anything stronger than milk here."

The server clears their throat. Tentatively, they offer, "I... can split the bill?"

"I've got it, really!"

"I'll... come back, then..."

"Nope, if you're going to be this stubborn then I'll pay," Cheryl says firmly.

The server, who really does not deserve any of this, takes a few small steps back from their table. They look at Cheryl and say, quietly, "Why don't you just... talk this over with your girlfriend, and I'll come back—"

"Hang on, we're not—I'm not—" Cynthia grimaces. "I—you know what, just... do what you want, Cheryl, it's fine."

"...alright," Cheryl replies, in a small voice. "We'll split the bill."

"Right." The server sounds incredibly relieved. They bow quickly and head off to go take care of that, and—wait, hold on, Cheryl looks like she's about to cry. 

...gods, was the idea of being her girlfriend that horrible? Cynthia clears her throat awkwardly and, looking away, she says, "Sorry about that. I—think the egg you gave me might be close to hatching, though?"

"Oh?" Cheryl perks up quite a bit. "We should check on it once we're outside!"

(But she still looks sad, when she thinks Cynthia isn't looking. For her half of the check, Cynthia tips the server well—it isn't their fault they didn't know. They didn't know any better than she did, and at least now she knows.)

Cynthia had been attempting to bluff, and rather poorly at that, but when she draws out the incubator from her pack the egg actually does shake a little as she watches it. She pauses, and looks at Cheryl, and says, "Is that—a good sign?"

"Shaymin, yes, that's a very good sign," Cheryl whispers reverently. "You're right. It is close to hatching."

"Oh! Uh, how do I know if it is hatching?"

Without answering her question, Cheryl squints at the egg. It shakes again as she watches it, and her eyes widen. "Keep an eye on it—if it shakes again within a span of about a minute, it's definitely ready to—"

"It shook," Cynthia reports. "It's ready, what do I do—"

"Oh! That's right, isn't it?" Cheryl grins uncertainly. "Eros hatched before I met you, didn't he...? Erm, alright, so what you want to do is—take a seat, anywhere, first of all."

"Should I go back inside, or just... sit on the ground, or..." 

"Ground's fine, just... give me the incubator!"

Cynthia does so, and takes up a cross-legged sitting position, and suddenly—there's a rather large egg in her lap. Which shudders slightly as she holds it. "Um."

"Just needs that last little push from you!" Cheryl kneels and places a reverent hand on the egg herself. "It's okay, little one. Take your sweet time. We're here for you, and—come on, Cynthia!"

"What am I supposed to say??"

"Something encouraging! I know you can do it!"

"You've... got this?" Cynthia tries, patting the egg awkwardly. It shakes a little more at her words. "I believe in you. You've got this—Cheryl, what exactly do they need to-?"

"They need to get out of the egg, hopefully. Ideally. If not that could get... messy, and we'd need to find a pokemon center very quickly but it should be fine." Cheryl leans in close to the egg and whispers, "Come on, little one, you can do it."

The egg shakes again, harder. It starts to rock back and forth in Cynthia's lap.

"What do I—"

"Hold it," Cheryl instructs, putting both of her hands around the egg. "Like this. So that it's stable enough that they can kick an opening. Once the shell is broken, the rest is comparatively much easier."

Cynthia nods, and does so. Her fingers brush Cheryl's as her friend pulls away, and she narrows her eyes, and she whispers, "That shell is going to be dust by the time you're finished with it. You just need to break through. All you need to do is break—"

The word through dies on her lips as she feels a much harder kick against the shell, almost directly against one of her hands. She apologizes silently and adjusts her hands, so that the next kick isn't blocked by her, but this one is weaker.

"How... long does this usually take?" Cynthia asks, concern filling her eyes.

"With help? Not more than an hour, usually—it's more difficult to tell how it goes if an egg doesn't have help given that they're not exactly being watched then, and I imagine a lot of eggs in the wild just don't hatch, but—" Cheryl clears her throat. "Just keep them steady, and we'll worry about that if it comes to that."

"Little late, I'm worrying."

"Yes, I'm aware, you worry about everything."

"Well I think this kind of warrants worrying a bit more than other things!"

"It will be fine!"

"Will it, though—" 

There's a hard kick squarely between Cynthia's hands, and something gives. A shard of eggshell goes flying directly into her face and the only thing keeping it from actually hitting her face is that it hits her glasses first. (Her glasses are fine. If they survived everything it took for her to become the champion, they'll survive this too.)

Cynthia blinks still on instinct, because what else are you supposed to do when something small and sharp goes flying toward your eyes—she doesn't usually wear glasses these days! But it's fine, and Cheryl gasps, and Cynthia looks down to see a little brown paw poking out of the hole it had made, attempting to make a bigger one by some strategic wriggling.

"Oh," Cynthia whispers, as the paw manages to brush against one of her hands and the pokemon inside makes a tiny little cry, digging tiny claws into her thumb. It doesn't even hurt. "Hi there, little one."

She finds out later, from the nurse at the Hearthome center, that while he's on the small side for an Eevee, he's otherwise got a clean bill of health and could, in theory, be able to battle right now.

In practice, he's literally a baby. He's going to spend a lot more time watching battles before Cynthia lets him near participating in one himself. But something about the way he holds himself reminds her of someone, someone who'd named most if not all of his pokemon after old myths and legends passed down through the ages.

He seems to like the name Helios, for whatever reason. Cynthia thinks her old friend might have liked that name too. And she can't help but wonder, with a tiny Eevee purring and kneading on her lap and Lucas making another center run between gym attempts, what he's up to these days?

(Seven months remain until the end of the world. If she hasn't run into him before that, she's putting that on her already quite long bucket list of things to do after.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Roark didn't recognize her, Gardenia didn't recognize her, Fantina didn't recognize her, so maybe Cynthia is worrying too much about the Veilstone Gym and its current leader. On the other hand, Cynthia would like to think that she and Maylene were friends of a sort at some point, and Cheryl did recognize her, so... maybe she isn't worrying enough.

"Alright, I'll admit I'm kind of surprised Maylene's still the leader here, but you are worrying too much," is Cheryl's abundantly helpful thoughts on the matter, though she seems quite distracted by the baby Eevee on her lap. "Who's a good boy, little Helios? Who's a good boy?"

"Vee," comes the cheerful agreement, and—he is definitely not battling at this gym for several reasons. He's a literal baby, and while pokemon can grow up incredibly fast compared to humans, Cynthia would like for him to not have to. And, also, he's currently got a massive disadvantage type-wise.

"Of course she's still the leader, she's good at it and she's nothing like her father," Cynthia says matter-of-factly. "Granted, for... a while she was just the interim leader, but Lucian was really just waiting for her to be confident enough to take the position herself and I saw no reason to change that."

"Oh." Cheryl blinks. "So that's why I keep hearing things about her being the new leader?"

Cynthia nods, as Helios is deposited back into her arms and she gives the little pokemon a big hug for good measure. He may not be battling today, but he'll certainly be watching, and Cynthia has faith in herself to not get too distracted by fluff. "It really is only in name. And I'm not sure how confident she is about it even now, so... I guess we'll find out."

"It... might be better if you take on this one alone?"

"...hm?"

Cheryl looks visibly uncomfortable with the words she's saying, but she does say, "The gym, this gym. If you really don't want to be recognized, I shouldn't be here with you. I don't know how well Maylene would know me, but..."

"...yeah, you haven't changed your appearance very much," Cynthia concedes. "Color-wise, anyway. What happened to your old sweater?"

"I've... still got it in my apartment somewhere, actually? And that would probably be a better disguise than, you know," she gestures vaguely at Cynthia's admittedly quite slapdash one. "I've... got some other errands to run, actually, I can fly home and grab it... if you'll be okay on your own?"

"I'll be okay."

It's a lie, Cynthia realizes, as she watches Cheryl head out the center doors with a last wave several minutes later. But it's not that she won't be okay specifically because Cheryl isn't here. It's more that she hasn't been really okay in... a long time.

And maybe being along with her thoughts right now is not the best idea she has ever had, so she gives Helios a few more fierce cuddles, makes for the gym, and hopes that the kids won't manage to get themselves into trouble somewhere between Hearthome and Veilstone. 

She realizes, stepping inside the Veilstone Gym herself, that she hasn't been here since getting her badge so long ago. It's not hard to figure out why. The last leader was... less than friendly, to put it lightly.

(Imagining the look on his face when he found out that the girl he kept cheating out of a badge became the next champion, though? That's kept her going through a lot. Spite is, after all, quite the powerful motivator.)

The gym's definitely different now, that's for sure. It's all one room now, with a puzzle involving a lot of punching bags being shoved around and—Cynthia finds out the hard way—quite a few gym trainers she has no choice but to battle.

"Oh, you brought an Eevee? Easy," one of the guys snorts, pulling out a pokeball.

"Oh, he's not battling, he's just watching," Cynthia says cheerfully. The Eevee on her shoulder makes a contented mrrp sound and rubs his face up against hers. Hello, serotonin. "Lunare, you've got this."

The black belt who had seemed quite confident when he thought he was battling an Eevee is, unsurprisingly, anything but confident up against a pokemon he can't even hit. Lunare makes short work of his team of fighting-types, as well as those of the others, and after one last center run...

"Oh, hello!" Maylene says excitedly, then ramps down her excitement a bit. "Um, I mean. Pleased to meet you. I'm Maylene, and I'm the gym leader here. I'll, uh, admit I'm not really sure... what it means to be a gym leader, or why I'm here, but... I do my best. And I take battling very seriously. So! Whenever you're ready."

Cynthia takes a deep breath. She lets it out. She's ready, and... honestly she should just go all into the battle and be done with it. The longer she talks with Maylene, the more chance there is of the younger girl recognizing her, but.

But.  

"Someone must have thought you'd make a good one," Cynthia says before she can talk herself out of it.

And that someone was Cynthia herself. So she would know.

"Well, yeah, but..." Maylene sighs. "It's not... this isn't the sort of thing I should be talking about with a challenger. Royal, you're up!"

And there's her Meditite, who looks quite strangely at Cynthia, but fortunately for the sake of her disguise remaining halfway intact she doesn't think Meditite is one of the admittedly many psychic-types capable of telepathy.

If worst comes to worst, she thinks Maylene can keep a secret.

"Fair enough," Cynthia allows. "But you should be talking about it with someone. I'm... okay, well, I'm being pretty hypocritical by saying this, I have a hard time talking to other people about my issues, but... I'll try talking to someone, literally anyone, if you do?"

"...sure," Maylene says, in a cagey way that seems familiar from the other side of things. "Are you... going to use that Eevee, or...?"

"Definitely not." She's had Lunare's pokeball at the ready this entire time to begin with, but she thought, maybe... well. She's probably going to be in Veilstone for a while, given that the kids aren't even here yet. "Lunare? Let's do this."

Her Drifblim spins in midair, making a delighted blorp noise as she surveys the surrounding arena. Maylene, meanwhile, narrows her eyes, balls up her hands into fists, and—focuses.

"Drifblim, huh? That'll be a challenge... but it's one I think we can handle. You know how it goes, three on three, no substitutions..."

"I know how it goes," Cynthia confirms.

"Great." Maylene looks at Cynthia again. She squints. Bites her lip. Looks back at the Drifblim, then back at Cynthia. "Hey, uh... sorry, I didn't catch your name...?"

"Diana." 

Her breath catches in her throat at the word, at the name that isn't really hers. She wonders if Diana could get away with giving Maylene a hug. She strongly doubts Cynthia could, even though she clearly could use it. She should have been paying more attention to how Maylene was doing now that she was the leader in name. She should have...

Well. She should have been doing a lot of things.

(And she hasn’t, has she.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"Lunare, let's start things off with a Stockpile," Cynthia says. Right now, she's going to focus on the battle at hand, and worry about everything else afterwards.

She... doesn't often use moves that don't directly deal damage, these days. These days, she prefers hitting hard and hitting fast and not wasting time with status conditions or strengthening her pokemon, most of the time. While her opponent is struggling to land a Toxic or a Thunder Wave, or attempting to make their pokemon hit harder with a Swords Dance or an Acupressure, she'll already have taken that pokemon down.

(Her Roserade is an outlier that just really likes to poison things, and who is she to deny her that?)

That being said. By these days, she means... well, before being thrown back in time.

There's no reason she can't do a little experimenting now. And so her Drifblim burbles in agreement, floating in midair and carefully stockpiling her energy for later in the fight.

"Fake O—" Maylene stops short, shakes her head. "No, no, that's a ghost-type—and a flying-type. Royal! Rock Tomb!"

"Medi!" The Meditite hollers, stomping hard with one foot. Rocks phase into being around her Drifblim, and strike.

Oh gods, that did way more damage than she thought it would. Lunare lets out a distressed noise, and—yeah, okay, she is not going to be able to make it through another hit like that. Except it's then that— yes!

Lunare pulls the Sitrus Berry out of the little fluffy cloud atop her head and eats it, shaking herself out. She looks a lot better now.

And, less importantly, she's faster now.

(Thanks, Cheryl.)

"Rock Tomb again!"

"Ominous Wind!" Cynthia calls, and prays for a hit hard enough to take the Meditite out. The first one isn't. But that berry gives Lunare the strength to get off a second one, and that one is enough. 

Maylene's pokemon staggers back to its feet, only to be intercepted by a recall beam.

"Good work," Maylene tells her Meditite, and sends out a second pokemon: a Machoke. "Sumo, Rock Tomb!"

And there goes Lunare. Cynthia sucks in a breath, returns her pokemon, and asks, "Out of curiosity, do all your pokemon know that move?"

"Not all of them," Maylene says. "But I come across enough flying-types that it's worth it to have a lot of my pokemon able to use it. That... wasn't your only one. Was it?"

Cynthia shakes her head. "Celeste, your turn. Psychic!"

Celeste, no longer a blue Ralts but now a blue Kirlia, lives up to her species name by pirouetting in place as the Machoke staggers backwards, shaking his head with an angry mutter of "Ma..."

"Ooooh, pretty," Maylene says. "Wait, shit, sorry. Sumo! Strength, now!"

Her Machoke launches himself at Celeste, slugging her in the face. She skids backwards from the retaliatory strike too, limping a little but—one look at her face confirms that she is not about to let herself be taken out of the fight this easily.

And Cynthia—makes a gamble, as bad an idea as that may be here in particular. "Celeste, Double Team!"

Normally, Cynthia hates moves that make the other pokemon harder to hit. They're annoying, and the trainers that use them typically even more so, and that's just one of several reasons why her Togekiss knows so many moves that can't miss.

(The other is, of course, his ability—but she's pretty sure that only applies to physical attacks anyway, so the point is moot.)

Normally, she would never be one to use a move like Double Team herself. But—she's experimenting. Testing out new strategies here, where it's not the end of the world if she loses. 

(It will be the end of the world if she loses in just a matter of months. But in the meantime... it's okay to try. Isn't it?)

Celeste's eyes gleam with psychic energy as her outline shimmers, blurring slightly. And the next Strength misses. Barely, but it misses.

"Psychic!"

The Machoke goes down with a crash and a thud. Maylene recalls him without another word, and Cynthia—wonders, for a moment, what her last pokemon's going to be.

And then a Lucario leaps onto the field, and Cynthia can't stop herself from staring.

"He's a Lucario," Maylene says proudly, completely misinterpreting the reason for Cynthia's surprise. "Probably never seen one before, huh? I'll give you a hint. He's not just a fighting-type."

"Fighting-steel, I know," Cynthia mutters, mentally going over her options. Celeste will be—decently effective, but not as much as she could be. She doesn't have a fire-type—never has, though if that's what Helios wants to evolve into he's welcome to, and either way that won't be happening for a while. Certainly not in this fight.

If Celeste goes down—which she might not, she might be able to handle this on her own so long as that Lucario doesn't have anything like Dark Pulse in its moves to choose from. If she goes down, Corundum will probably be her best bet.

That will also be a gamble, because Corundum is almost certainly not going to be faster than Maylene's Lucario. But a Quick Claw is a very useful thing, and if— if —Corundum is able to either hit first or survive the Lucario's hit...

Better to avoid that. "Celeste, Psychic!"

"Wait, you know that?" Maylene says. "Then why... oh. You think... well, that's okay. I... you wouldn't be wrong."

Her Lucario makes an indignant noise at whatever she's thinking, spinning on its heel and completely forgetting to so much as try to dodge Celeste's attack.

What is she... well, that doesn't matter. Not yet. "Again!"

But it does, because Maylene says, "Force Palm, quick!" and while the resultant hit does relatively little damage-wise, there's the unmistakable crackle of paralysis. The Kirlia's limbs start freezing up on her even as she struggles to push past it.

"Finish her off! Drain Punch!" Maylene says confidently—or in something that passes for confidently. Cynthia's never been good at telling if someone's lying, but—she's been there. Not so much until quite recently, but she's been there before that, too.

She can't tell. But the Lucario's gaze slides over to her. 

He misses his attack.

....uh oh. She's... she can't have met Maylene's Lucario before, she didn't even know she had a Riolu, never mind a Lucario.

But her own Lucario is... incredibly nosy, for one thing, and he's figured out things that Cynthia herself didn't until much later. If Maylene's is anything like her own...

"Psychic, one more time," Cynthia says.

Celeste can't quite manage it. Either she misses, too, or the paralysis kicks in. The effect's the same, overall.

"It's okay, you'll be okay," Cynthia tells her. "If you can, great. If you can't, that's fine too."

The Kirlia shakes her head, and—concentrates. Or tries to.

"Bone Rush, then!" Maylene shouts, and three strikes connect, and Celeste sways on her feet like she's eaten something she shouldn't have. She starts to fall. Cynthia goes for her pokeball.

"Kirrr," Celeste full on growls, catching herself with an arm that shakes. For a few, terrifying moments, it looks like she won't be able to even hold her own weight. And then her eyes gleam with a last, desperate attack—

And it hits. The Lucario collapses just as Celeste finally crumples, too. Cynthia's gaze flicks down to her pokemon, then up to Maylene, and she says, "I've still got a third pokemon that can fight."

"I figured," Maylene murmurs, recalling her Lucario. "You've definitely earned the Cobble Badge, Diana. Congrats."

"Thanks." Cynthia kneels, picking up Celeste in her arms. She's still awake, even if she can't stand on her own, and the Kirlia blinks up at her in surprise. "Hey. You did good, I told you. Alright?"

"Kirliiia," Celeste says dubiously, but doesn't struggle when Cynthia recalls her into her ball and then turns to Maylene.

"So, um." Cynthia decides—okay. There are a lot of things that she can't do yet, won't be able to do until after she saves the world. But this doesn't have to be one of them. And so she asks, in a lower voice, "I... realize this must be very odd to hear from a challenger. But you seem like a good gym leader to me."

"That's what everyone says," Maylene says with a shrug. "So I guess they must be right."

"Why wouldn't they be?"

"I-I don't..." She frowns, and offers up the badge. "Here. No need for you to stick around."

"Thanks for the badge," Cynthia says quietly. "But if you do need, or want, to talk..."

"Maybe I do," Maylene mutters, which is an answer Cynthia never gave. "But why do you care?"

Cynthia shrugs. She makes a choice. And she asks, "Can you keep a secret?"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Maylene glances towards the pokemon center counter, then back at Cynthia. "So. Uhhhh. Let me make sure I've got all this straight."

Cynthia raises an eyebrow at her choice of words. "Alright..."

"Well, not straight, imagine being straight." Maylene snickers to herself, and Cynthia is quite suddenly reminded of the time she showed up to a leader meeting ten minutes late looking rather disheveled and with her hand in Candice's. "But uhh. Some shit happened with that energy corporation that... has a massive building downtown... and they're actually evil and are gonna destroy the world in a few months."

"They are," Cynthia confirms. "Please don't go try to stop them early, I don't—"

"No, I got it. Nothing that you can't remember, because. Time traveler." Maylene blinks. "That is such a weird thought. There's just two Cynthias now? What happens if you run into each other?"

"I don't recognize me, it's already happened," Cynthia says matter-of-factly. "This is definitely a good thing."

"Guess so. And you're just traveling around re-collecting badges because...?"

"Nothing better to do and I'm keeping an eye on some kids. I... doubt you've seen any of them yet, except maybe Barry." She shrugs lightly. "Mostly, I have nothing better to do and... well, none of my usual pokemon. So I... have to be able to get back there."

"Alright. And there is... the top of Mt. Coronet. Where no one has been in centuries."

"There's a passage, they'll find it in a few months," Cynthia mutters. "Look, I—I didn't bring this up because I wanted sympathy or anything, I brought this up because I knew you could keep a secret and so I'd actually be able to give you a hug without it being weird because we're already friends. Kind of. I... are we still friends?"

Maylene blinks. "...I think so?"

"Okay, good. Listen. Do you want a hug? Because you sounded like you needed one."

"I... would love a hug, actually," Maylene says cautiously, "but also you sound like you need one just as much as me."

"That sounds like a problem we can solve."

Maylene nods, and pulls her into a hug. Cynthia takes a shaky, shuddering breath, and... okay. Maybe Maylene had a point. Maybe she did need this just as much as her friend did. 

"Um, excuse me? Ma'am?" It's the pokecenter nurse, holding out two pokeballs—Lunare's and Celeste's. "Am I interrupting—"

"No, no, you're—fine," Cynthia says awkwardly, taking the pokeballs. "Thank you."

The nurse nods and heads off a bit faster than normal. Maylene sits back against the couch, puts her hands behind her head, and mutters, "I—okay, listen, I promised I could keep a secret, and I intend to keep that promise. But I would really like to not keep this from Candice?"

"Go ahead, then." Cynthia resigns herself to her fate, fiddling absently with Celeste's pokeball as she puts Lunare's back into her bag. And then something occurs to her. "Actually—wait, don't tell her what I'm going by or what I'll look like."

Maylene blinks in confusion. "O... kay? Why not?"

"See if she recognizes me. If she doesn't, I'll tell her!"

"Cynthia, I... I mean this in the nicest way possible," Maylene says quietly. "But your disguise is not that effective. My first thought was that it was you, and then you were acting like you didn't know me and you were just here for a badge and that was incredibly confusing. But if I knew you were coming, I would have figured it out."

"...oh." Cynthia bites her lip. "That's fine—"

"No, no, better idea. You're definitely going to need something warmer for going up to Snowpoint anyway, please do not be like my girlfriend and keep wearing your coat around your waist instead of, you know, on you."

Cynthia raises an eyebrow at Maylene, who she isn't entirely certain owns a coat. She's pretty sure her silence says it all.

"I own a coat!" Maylene says defensively. "I just don't use it. I've got my training to do."

"Of... course."

"Anyway, you can borrow it! You're not... okay you are much taller than me but besides that we're mostly the same size. It'll just look very, very different on you than it does on me! Which will probably work out in your favor for Candice." Maylene pauses. "Actually, I don't think she's ever seen me wear my coat either, but she did get it for me, so..."

"How are you alive," Cynthia asks.

"Rigorous training! Also that deal I made with Heatran when I was ten." 

"...I'm sorry, what?"

"Kidding, kidding, Heatran was just the first fire-related god I could think of," Maylene says with a snort. "Just rigorous training. The cold isn't so bad as long as you keep moving!"

"...okay then. Well. Let's just..." The ball in her hand starts to shake. "Hold on. Cel—"

The pokeball (great ball, actually, but who's really paying attention to that?) opens. Celeste the Kirlia pops out, twirling in place. She bows to Cynthia, bows to Maylene, and then her eyes start to glow with—something.

And then the rest of her starts to glow with that same something. And she grows taller, until the light fades and only her eyes gleam now, and the blue Kirlia has become a blue Gardevoir.

"Oh, wow," Maylene says, eyes growing quite wide. "She must have been close to evolving already, huh!"

"I... guess so," Cynthia murmurs. She holds out a hand. "Well. Thank you, Celeste. Here's to many more battles together."

"Garrde," Celeste agrees, taking Cynthia's hand in hers and shaking it firmly. "Gar-de- voir!"

"Potentially dumb question," Maylene says quietly. "Doesn't Kirlia have two possible evolutions?"

Cynthia nods. "Gardevoir and Gallade, but only guys can evolve into Gallade—or at least, only male Kirlia have so far, I wouldn't be surprised if that changed, personally. Either way, you need a Dawn Stone to do it."

"Huh." She considers this. "Gallade's a fighting-type, isn't it? I've been wanting to grab one for my gym for a while, but... hmm. Maybe I'll see if I can find a Ralts who's willing."

"Maybe!" Cynthia shrugs to herself. She recalls Celeste for now, because while she loves the pokemon dearly, Veilstone is one of the biggest cities in Sinnoh still and she wants to avoid attention—having a shiny pokemon out in public is the exact opposite of that. "Let's go get that coat, then."

Maylene nods, and they head off into the city, back to the gym—though Cynthia notices that she gives the Game Corner a wide berth. Cynthia doesn't ask, until they've circled back around to Maylene's apartment and are safely out of earshot of anyone in particular, and honestly she has a... decently good idea already.

But.

"Montague?" Cynthia asks. And then clarifies quickly, "Is that why you steered clear of the game corner?"

Maylene grimaces. She tosses quite a few articles of clothing that Cynthia would never have expected her to even own over her shoulder before eventually answering, "Yep. We don't talk much these days. For... obvious reasons. I've tried to reach out a few times, but..." She shrugs, pulls a bathing suit tie-dyed in lesbian flag colors out of her closet, and tosses that over her shoulder too. "A part of me is kind of glad nothing's ever come of that. And the rest of me is... well. I kind of miss my dad."

"I can imagine," Cynthia says quietly. "Listen. You're a much better gym leader than he ever was, okay?"

"I know." She makes a triumphant noise, spins on her heel, and brandishes an eye-searingly pink overcoat on a hanger like it's a weapon. "Ta-da! I know it's not your style, but it will definitely throw off anyone looking at you from thinking Cynthia."

"It... definitely will." Cynthia tries to suppress her grimace. "It's very... bright."

"That's an advantage," Maylene says with complete certainty. "If you end up passing out in a blizzard you'll be far easier to see and much less likely to fucking die!"

Cynthia blinks. "That... was not something I was considering."

Maylene nods sagely. "Not fucking dying is pretty important, I think."

"Yes, it is." Resigning herself to her fate, Cynthia pulls it on. The coat itself isn't too bad to wear, but it feels very strange—not to mention very, very different from her actual coat. It's not uncomfortable, exactly, but it'll definitely take some getting used to. And that's to say nothing about how it looks.

"...oh my gods you look so uncomfortable," Maylene snickers. "It's not that bad, is it?"

"I am... not used to wearing pink."

"Sounds like a you problem. Everyone should be more used to wearing pink."

"Your hair is pink."

"Yes, and?" Maylene grins. "You'll be fine. And I don't think you want to try out my training regimen to go up to Snowpoint without a coat, so..."

(Cheryl, when she gets back from her errands, is both very amused and apparently had a similar idea with her old sweater. Cynthia... isn't really one for fashion beyond 'black always works,' but she's pretty sure that a bright pink coat and a sweater in various shades of green under it do not work, and the way Dawn just visibly cringes the next time she sees her only supports that.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Barry is, unsurprisingly, the first of the kids to make it to Veilstone. Equally unsurprisingly, the first thing he does upon crossing paths with Cynthia again (or more specifically, 'Diana') is challenge her to a battle.

"Maybe not right now," Cynthia says with an amused smile. "Go try out the gym first. You beat the leader, I'll take you on, but I don't want to beat you too soundly."

"You can do that?" Barry blurts. 

"...go to a gym?"

"Refuse a challenge? Without like some actual reason, like your pokemon need the rest, or you just got out of a gym, or it's two in the morning?"

"It's two in the afternoon," Cynthia says. "...but also, how do you know my pokemon don't need the rest?"

"...I guess I don't? But also you just came out of the pokemon center."

Cynthia glances backwards at the offending building. "Good point. But to answer your question—yes? Of course you can refuse a battle, you don't need a reason?"

"Huh." Barry considers this. "I think I owe Dawn and Lucas an apology." 

"Do—do I need to tell them this too? What are they telling you kids these days?"

"When two trainers' eyes meet, you gotta battle?"

"My gods, that's..." Cynthia sighs. "Yes, that's the case if both trainers are willing and able to battle. Which they may not be. You can always say no."

"So... I've been running past trainers too fast for them to meet my eyes for no reason? Cool."

"I need a drink," Cynthia mutters.

Barry perks up, for some reason. "You're old enough to drink? ...why are you giving me that look?"

"Yes, I—why is that something you want to know?"

"No reason," Barry says cheerfully. "I'm gonna go beat the shit out of the gym leader now. Bye!"

Cynthia watches him go, thoroughly baffled by more than a few things. Helios mrrps sleepily in her arms. She looks down at him and asks, "Should I not be confused by that?"

Helios starts purring, which is not an answer but also something she is not about to complain about. She doesn't get an answer until Lucas and Dawn turn up together, and Dawn's response, after she's done processing Cynthia's new and dubiously improved disguise, is to just double over cackling.

"Oh, Barry and Lucas and I've got a group chat where we try to figure out what exactly your deal is," Dawn says matter-of-factly, and Lucas nearly drops his Clefairy. "So far all we've come up with is that you're very weird."

"Dawn, no," Lucas groans, looking very much like he wants to disappear.

"Dawn, yes!" She grins. "I mean, that's not a bad thing, we're all fucking weird. Except maybe your... wait, is Cheryl your girlfriend?"

"Cheryl is not my girlfriend," Cynthia says.

"Aww. Maybe you should get on that? I mean, have you seen the way she looks at you?"

"........no?"

"I can't deal with this right now," Lucas declares, looking down at his Clefairy. "Hypatia and I are going to go for a walk and we are going to figure out how to do—things."

"We are walking, nerd," Dawn calls after him as he speedwalks off in a different direction. 

"...things?" Cynthia asks, because that's preferable over trying to unpack why Dawn seemed to think Cheryl was her girlfriend. 

Dawn shrugs. "He couldn't beat Fantina. I offered to dress up as him and kick her ass again for him, but he figured he might have better luck taking on the next gym and coming back, so... well, Barry said the leader here isn't a pushover but also Barry tends to throw himself headfirst at gyms until he beats them so I think I'll probably be okay. Have you met her yet?"

Cynthia nods. "She's not a pushover. But you should be okay as long as you have more than one pokemon that's good against fighting."

"Well, I've got Glee—and Barry said he found a Shiny Stone, but he doesn't want to evolve his Roselia yet so he said he'd give it to me if I beat him in a battle. So she'll be even stronger soon! ...once I can find Barry."

"I would check between the gym and the pokemon center."

"Yeah, probably," Dawn agrees. "...so. Diana. What the fuck is the deal with you and Cheryl?"

It was definitely too much to hope she would drop the subject. 

"Um," Cynthia says intelligently. "I don't know what you're talking about?"

"Sure." Dawn sounds thoroughly unconvinced. "I know there's something going on there. But I can't quite peg what. So, if you don't want to tell me, I can go hunt down Cheryl to ask her next—"

"No, don't—" Cynthia swallows. "She's busy. No need to bother her."

And that's why she doesn't want Dawn to ask her. That's the only reason why she doesn't want Dawn to ask her. Isn't it? What other reason would there be?

"...okayyyy," Dawn says slowly, drawing out the word. "So. What's the deal. You're both that Cynthia lady's exes, right? I mean, you've all got two hands—"

"That's not—" Cynthia sucks in a breath. "Cheryl never dated Cynthia, and... neither did I." 

Mainly because it would be a little hard to date herself, for multiple reasons. Dawn looks incredibly skeptical.

"Then why did—"

"I don't know! Maybe Cheryl thought I did, or maybe she just thought it would be fun to mess with me. I don't know." Cynthia sucks in a breath. "Where did you even get her being m—Cynthia's ex from?"

Dawn shrugs. "Felt right. Am I wrong?"

"Yes??"

"...okay. Well, this still doesn't answer any of my actual questions—"

"DAWN!" Lucas comes sprinting around a street corner, very nearly colliding with his sister. None of his pokemon are out. "Fuck, I—oh, hi Diana."

"Hi," Cynthia says cautiously. "What's going on?"

"Team Galactic stole my pokedex?"

"What?"

"What the fuck?" Dawn demands. "How did that happen?"

"I... may have tripped and dropped it," Lucas says mareepishly. "And a grunt picked it up and ran, and I chased after him but he had backup and then they tried to steal my Clefairy and I panicked and booked it before they could take Hypatia—"

"Lucas??? You could have fought them???"

"But what if I lost?"

"Okay," Cynthia says quietly. "You said they had backup? How much?"

"There were three of them—"

"Three of us, I think we can handle that."

"Yes we can," Dawn agrees. "Even if they all come at us at once, well—there's those things called triple battles in Unova and—"

"I don't think they're actually legal here?" Cynthia says thoughtfully. "But. That's for official league battles. In battles just between trainers, you can do whatever you want, and I really don't think anyone will care about legality when they tried to steal your pokemon, Lucas, let's go."

Lucas nods. Dawn elbows him and whispers, not quietly enough, "Add 'might be a Tailow Attorney protagonist' to the list."

"I'm not a Tailow Attorney protagonist."

"Add 'knows what Tailow Attorney is' to the list."

Cynthia sighs. Lucas nods and says, "W-well, uh. It was this way. But there was also a big building with their symbol on the side—"

"Oh no," Dawn says, unnecessarily. "I thought their headquarters was in Eterna!"

"Clearly they had a backup headquarters," Cynthia says, wondering how in distortion she'd missed this place. Well, okay, she probably missed this place because she doesn't spend much time in Veilstone. "Let's go."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Fortunately for the sake of not having to storm the place several months early, they catch up with the Galactic grunt and his backup before they get into the Galactic HQ. Unfortunately for the sake of anything approaching an element of surprise, Lucas catches sight of them and immediately shouts, "Hey!"

(It's probably for the best. Element of surprise and Cynthia aren't often in the same sentence for a reason.)

"Oh, you're back," the grunt says dryly. "And you brought friends."

Lucas shakes his head. He gestures to Dawn and says, "Sister," and then gestures to Cynthia and says, "Weird and mysterious sort-of mentor."

"I... I'll take it?" Cynthia decides, slightly confused.

Dawn makes finger-guns. "Dumbass, affectionate. Anyway, you're going to give him back his pokedex, or I am going to beat your faces in."

"Oh yeah?" The grunt says. "You're going to have to get past our pokemon first."

"The boss wants it, and we're not about to disappoint them," another adds, tossing a pokeball up and down. 

"What do they want with a portable encyclopedia?" Cynthia asks, raising an eyebrow. Because—for one thing, there's very little stored on a pokedex that can't be found elsewhere, if you know where to look. And for another, Cyrus... has their own pokedex? Unless they lost it? Or...

Wait. The Sinnoh pokedex has been updated since... they disappeared. And while Cynthia hasn't exactly been downloading updates for her old one, pokedexes are keyed to specific holders for a reason.

And it would raise several red flags if a pokedex belonging to someone legally deceased suddenly came back online to download updates.

Never mind, she might know exactly what Cyrus wants with Lucas's pokedex. 

"Uhhhh," the grunt says, looking at his friends. "They, uh. Want something with it—"

"You don't even know, do you?" Dawn laughs.

"Well, you don't either," the third grunt retorts. "And you never will. Let's get this over with." 

She tosses out a Bronzor, while the others send out a Zubat and a Glameow.

"Lets," Cynthia agrees. She doesn't have a pokemon who can target multiple others at the moment, except... well, Magnitude. The issue is that will also hit whatever pokemon Dawn and Lucas send out, unless they both go for flying-types. She turns to ask about that—

Except Dawn's already hollering, "Tuxedo, go!"

And Lucas has sent out his Kadabra without another word. 

Okay then. Corundum and Magnitude is definitely out. If Tuxedo handles the Zubat, and Hypatia doesn't go for the Bronzor... well, that's a psychic-type. She knows what to do with psychic-types.

"Lunare, I need you," Cynthia says, sending out her Drifblim. "Ominous Wind, Bronzor!"

"Riemann, throw up a—" Lucas hesitates, and grimaces. "Reflect?"

"Tuxedo, Thunder Fang! Drag that bat out of the sky!" Dawn hollers, and her Luxio leaps forward to do so before the grunt with a Zubat can call out his own attack. Tuxedo's jaws spark with electricity as she leaps up into the air and chomps down on the Zubat's wing, shaking it roughly as the Bronzor recoils from the ghastly wind summoned by Lunare and both Tuxedo and Lunare, as well as Riemann, all glimmer with some form of psychic energy.

The Zubat grunt glares and recalls his pokemon as it goes down, only to send out—another Zubat, of course. The one with the Bronzor has his pokemon set up Safeguard, which is—annoying, but certainly not the end of the world. And as for the Glameow...

"Assist! Take out that Luxio," the grunt calls out, and his Glameow's fur bristles before its claws glow purple and it lunges at Tuxedo, swiping madly. It doesn't look to have done that much damage, except that Tuxedo is looking a little purple herself, which is— not good.

Poison. Bad poison, if that's the move Cynthia thinks it is.

"You fucking bitch," Dawn snarls, evidently figuring it out for herself. "Tuxedo, can you still—"

"Luxiooo!" Tuxedo hisses in turn, tail lashing back and forth.

"Great! Thunder Fang again, this time on the Glameow!"

"Gust, follow Tuxedo," Cynthia commands. They'll all be able to take down these three faster if they focus on one target each, and if Lucas gets the memo too.

Lucas does not get the memo. Or if he does, he ignores it, stammering, "A-alright, now Light Screen!"

It's—not what Cynthia would have done. But as she watches the other pokemon's moves do significantly less damage than they would have otherwise, she decides that doesn't necessarily make it a bad decision at all.

(Not that she'll ever admit as much to a certain psychic-type specialist and former champion who makes quite liberal use of both of those moves. It's a lot more effective when battling as a team, though, that's for certain.)

The Glameow goes down, and a Croagunk takes its place. Lunare ends up getting poisoned as well, and gets swapped out for Milady around the same time as Dawn recalls Tuxedo in favor of her Togetic. Lucas manages to throw up another Reflect before his Kadabra is knocked out by a timely Gust from a Beautifly, and he switches to his Clefairy.

It's a close battle, Cynthia will admit.

Okay, that's not entirely accurate. It would be a close battle, if the three of them all had three pokemon like their opponents. But Cynthia has five she's willing to use in battle, Dawn has four, and Lucas has six. So, really, the group of Galactic grunts don't stand a chance, and they should know it.

They don't, though. At least, that's what Cynthia thinks until the final pokemon (a Golbat) goes down, the grunt recalls him with a careless shrug, and says, "You didn't actually think we still had that thing on us, did you?"

"W-what?" Lucas whispers.

Cynthia glares, as Milady takes a running leap and lands on her shoulder. She reaches up a hand to steady the Buneary, then storms forward to glare down at the grunt, drags him upward to eye level, and snarls, "Where is Lucas's pokedex?"

The grunt just stares back for a moment. "I-I—"

"Bun-bun- bun," Milady says threateningly.

He freezes. "T-that Buneary has a knife?!"

"Yes? That's hers," Cynthia says matter-of-factly. "And Milady isn't who you should be worried about, actually. Where—"

"In the warehouse! In the warehouse up there—"

"Hey," another grunt says, "don't just—"

"The boss is probably done by now," the third adds. "Come on. Let's just go."

Cynthia drops the grunt, and he and his friends book it. Not towards the warehouse they'd indicated, but towards what is almost certainly their main headquarters. ...and, currently, a legitimate business front.

And Dawn snarls, "Oh, if you think you're gonna get away —"

"Hold your horsea," Cynthia says. "Pokedex first."

"W-what if it's a trap?" Lucas asks, hugging his Clefairy to his chest.

"Then we'll be ready for it. And we'll never find out if we don't get in there." 

And she'd be lying if she said she didn't have other reasons for wanting to hurry, especially after hearing that the boss specifically was interested in Lucas's pokedex. She exchanges a look with Milady and starts walking.

"Is—is she okay?" Lucas asks Dawn.

"Nope," Cynthia answers, and quickens her pace.

(In the end, the warehouse is deserted. There's Lucas's pokedex on the table, with some kind of transfer cable plugged into it. Maybe it's meant to connect to another pokedex, an older model—but that older pokedex, and its owner, are nowhere to be found.)

(Before they leave, Lucas takes back his dex and Dawn steals the transfer cable, and Cynthia lingers a bit longer before whispering, to someone who isn't here, "You could have just asked.")

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa - Glee

PKMN Trainer Lucas
Kepler - Riemann - Copernicus - Tesla - Pythagoras - Hypatia

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Barry is not the first of the kids to defeat Maylene and earn his badge. Neither, as it turns out, is Dawn.

Cynthia thinks Lucas might be the most surprised of them all, though the fact that he has three pokemon with a notable advantage type-wise against Maylene to Barry's two and Dawn's one certainly didn't hurt. Still, he looks incredibly happy about that fact as they wait outside the gym for Dawn to finish with her next attempt.

"Damn, I—I should have come here first to begin with," Lucas says cheerfully, bouncing his Golbat in his arms. "This was so much easier than Fantina— oh gods, wait, I have to go back and fight Fantina now don't I—"

"You do," Cynthia confirms. "But you'll be better prepared and you'll have more experience overall—not to mention more confidence in yourself and your pokemon. You'll do fine."

"I have plenty of confidence in my pokemon," he protests. "It's not their fault they've got me for a trainer!"

"It... kind of is."

Copernicus the Golbat actually hisses at her, which is a fair enough response to that. She clears her throat and continues, "I don't mean that in a bad way. Excluding certain pokeballs that most trainers can't get, you can't capture a pokemon that doesn't want to be caught, on some level."

Lucas blinks. "Your Buneary wanted to be caught?"

"Ehhhhhh..." Cynthia shrugs. "I haven't asked, but honestly, I think that was more a case of 'this human had the metaphorical balls to capture me and I'm going to make that her problem now.'"

He snorts. "That's an oddly specific description."

"Not my first time handling a pokemon like that," she says with a laugh. "Although I think Milady could give B—that other pokemon a run for their money."

Lucas nods. Then he leans in, and lowers his voice, and asks, "Your, uh... other pokemon. I-if it's okay for me to ask, what happened to them?"

Cynthia blinks. "What do you... oh. They're fine. They don't even know I'm gone yet." And they won't, for another six months. "They're still with, um, the other me."

(And she is incredibly relieved about her habit of keeping her pokemon away when she didn't want to be recognized, because she couldn't have fooled them. And she wouldn't have wanted to.)

"Ohhhh." Lucas nods. "Just so you know, both Dawn and Barry think they died or something. Or, well, Dawn thinks they died, Barry thinks they got confiscated for some kind of crimes."

"Barry thinks what?"

Lucas shrugs. "I think he was just trying to think of something halfway plausible that wasn't what Dawn thought. Though you do come across as pretty sketchy sometimes."

"I am not sketchy," Cynthia protests. 

"Uhhh..." 

"I'm not!"

"...ma'am, you literally showed up out of nowhere a few months ago and the only reason you've told me anything is because I'm nice and will keep a secret and because I figured you out already," Lucas says. "Somewhat. But seriously, you know tons about pokemon training and how it works in Sinnoh specifically despite the fact that you supposedly got your first mon at the same time as the rest of us, you're friends with the prof and with that Cheryl lady—"

"Cheryl's friends with everyone," Cynthia protests. "She's just a nice person."

"And it's really, really obvious when you're lying, you have to be threatened with actually taking care of yourself—Barry tends to forget about that too but nowhere near to the point that you do, and you're a really, really good trainer, and for some reason you were just—giving out eggs back in Eterna??"

"Day care incident, I'm sure it happens to everyone, my Togekiss just had a really, really good time there apparently." Cynthia sighs. "These are perfectly normal things!"

"Would Cheryl agree with that?"

"She would not," Cheryl says cheerfully, and Cynthia nearly jumps out of her skin. "How did the gym go, Lucas?"

"I... won somehow?" Lucas shrugs. "Not sure how."

Cheryl nods in understanding. "Some gyms are just much easier than others. But you're meant to be able to win even if you're not the best at battling. It'd be boring for the champion if she never got any challengers!"

"Huh. Yeah, I guess it would be." Lucas pauses. "You know her, too?"

"You could say she's an old friend of mine," Cheryl says innocently, and Cynthia resists the urge to scream. "A bit absent-minded at times, and I wish she'd let people in, but she's a good friend when it counts."

Lucas nods, thoughtful, and somehow completely misses the way Cynthia has just frozen. "Guess I'd better at least try to get to her, then. She sounds cool."

"She is," Cheryl says, quite genuinely. Her eyes meet Cynthia's, briefly, and she smiles.

And Cynthia nearly cries. She manages to disguise it by going, quickly, "I'm going to—bathroom. Be right back."

She does not flee quickly enough to miss Lucas asking Cheryl, "...what, is the champion actually her ex or something?"

The incredibly complicated love triangle that is the kids assuming she is dating herself aside, Veilstone proves not to be too much trouble for Barry, either. Dawn ends up making several attempts before eventually rushing into the pokemon center after her fifth in a single day and declaring that she wanted to get some new pokemon before she tried again, and maybe another badge, and did anyone else want to come with her to Pastoria?

Pastoria City is... honestly, not an unexpected next step on the kids' journey. They can swing back around through Hearthome for Lucas afterwards, and then head up through Celestic for Snowpoint—or just head west from Hearthome for Canalave, if they'd rather take on Byron next, Cynthia knows that's the route most people take these days. Byron's considered one of the tougher gym leaders around, arguably the second-toughest—but he's apparently not feared enough for people to make the long, cold hike up to Snowpoint first.

Volkner, however, is. Cynthia supposes she might have a slightly higher opinion of the man's battling skills if he didn't routinely turn up at the League only to have his face metaphorically beaten in by Bertha (and, on one notable occasion, her and her ground-type ace.) He's definitely not seen as the strongest gym leader in Sinnoh for nothing.

But strength is relative. While few people attempt the feat, it's very possible to take on Volkner's gym as your first and win... so long as you aren't too put out by his constant complaints of the battle not being fun. Each and every gym, at least in Sinnoh, can be fought in any order. Though some leaders are more forgiving to relative novices than others, like—she's heard—the next one on the kids' list.

The leader of the Pastoria Gym, Crasher Wake, is not one that Cynthia fought as a gym leader. But she's fought him before, and his advice after defeating him for the first time proved invaluable in defeating the rest of the Elite Four and her predecessor. He'd since taken over the gym in Pastoria, since he apparently already lived in the city and it was hardly an issue from there.

He's a very, very nice man.

He also seems to have a radar for if anyone is feeling down for any reason, which could be a problem, and is why Cynthia is all too happy to let Barry take on the gym first and tag along with Lucas when he so much as mentions the Great Marsh.

She's not expecting Dawn to tag along, too.

"Hold on," Cynthia says as the three of them make for the gate. "Lucas, I understand, we're both trying quite hard to fill up the pokedex. But... Dawn?"

"Oh, I'm just catching my favorites, he said all I needed to do was see pokemon for them to get registered," Dawn says matter-of-factly. "I'm not here for the pokedex. Well, I kind of am, since all I need to do is see a bunch of the pokemon here, but—"

"She really wants a Wooper," Lucas supplies.

"I really, really, really want a Wooper," Dawn gushes. "They're so huggable! Have—have you seen their little faces? They're so squishy, Diana! So squishy!"

"I—yes, I've seen their little faces," Cynthia says faintly. "Very squishy. I... thought you wanted something to help with Maylene's gym? Like a Croagunk or something? Or with Crasher Wake?"

"...Crasher Wake? Who the fuck is Crasher Wake?"

"...gym leader, he's a wrestler, he insists on being called Crasher Wake because of that?" She says hopefully. "The guy Barry is probably fighting right now? Cheryl went with him?"

Dawn stares for a bit longer. And then she goes, "Ohhhh. What does he specialize in, electric-types? Fighting? ...wait—"

"Maylene is fighting," Lucas supplies.

"Maylene is fighting, yeah, can— can there be two gyms for the same type?"

Cynthia shrugs. "Not in the same region, I'm pretty sure?" 

Though now that she thinks about it, she doesn't actually think there's a rule against it—or a rule stating that gym leaders have to specialize, either. She'd assumed that they did, and she admittedly did a lot of skimming through what league regulations she did read, but... she thinks she would have remembered reading that.

Probably. Hopefully. She was admittedly quite distracted when she first became champion, for a few reasons.

"Huh," Dawn says. "So... electric? Crasher makes me think of explosions, and you know... explosions, electricity, kaboom ..."

"Water," Cynthia says. "The electric leader is in Sunyshore. He's... a handful, I'm probably going to take him on last myself."

Dawn grimaces. "I mean, it'd be a good test for that Wooper I'm gonna get—they're gonna be so fucking adorable, just you wait—once they evolve. I'm thinking... something like... Blue? Or Wave? Maybe I'll name 'em after the gym leader if he's chill."

"Well, if he specializes in water-types..." Lucas shrugs. "Probably the sort of guy to just... go with the flow, y'know?"

Cynthia suppresses a laugh. That is the last way she would describe Crasher Wake.

"I've..." Wait, she can't say she's met him. "From what I've heard about him, he's... very much not that. He will probably get along pretty well with Barry."

(Actually, given all the Sinnoh Man memes Wake has spawned—intentionally or not—she's almost certain he will either get along scarily well with Barry, or they will hate each other on sight—and Barry isn't generally the kind of person to hate people. Cynthia isn't entirely sure the kid's capable of full on hating someone. So... probably becomes almost certainly.)

(She's starting to fear for Cheryl's remaining sanity, actually.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

There are a lot of pokemon that evolve at similar levels of strength, to the point where most if not all budding trainers end up with several evolutions all at around the same time. It happened for Barry with his Chimchar and Starly (now a Monferno and Staravia) within the same week. It happened for Cynthia herself, too, with her Lucario and her Gastrodon—though, admittedly, her Gastrodon wasn't exactly with her at the time and is now no longer her pokemon but Cheryl's.

It's a bit harder to predict when pokemon will evolve when it's based on things like friendship, but much easier when it involves some kind of item—usually. Usually, you'd get an item like, say, a Thunderstone and then you'd have a conversation with your Pikachu about when you wanted to use it and then you'd use it when you both felt the time is right.

Usually, your feisty little Eevee doesn't end up burrowing into a friend's bag, touch something inside, and then start glowing with his little butt sticking in the air before you or Barry can pull him out.

"Oh no," Barry says, unnecessarily. He drops the bag.

"Don't drop him," Cynthia protests, managing to grab Helios before he falls with the bag. She can feel his fur becoming less fluffy and more spiky, and as the light fades she's holding a very small, completely unrepentant Jolteon. "...okay. Well then. That... certainly happened."

"Um, congratulations on the evolution?" Barry says mareepishly. "I'm gonna be completely honest with you, I forgot I picked that up, I was gonna sell it at the pokemart or something. Found it while Lucas and I were getting lost in the ruins."

"You're fine, it happens and if he's happy with it—" Cynthia pauses. "Wait, which ruins?"

"The... ones near Solaceon Town...? What other ruins are there?"

"A few," Cynthia says, and decides to shut her mouth before she outs herself on accident as being very, very interested in things like ancient ruins and near-forgotten artifacts. Because of course that would be the thing to give her away, wouldn't it?

(She completely forgets, at this point in time, that her own interest in archaeology is far from common knowledge.)

Helios quite suddenly evolving into a Jolteon is one thing—and a rather convenient thing at that, given that Cynthia's plan for the water gym coming up was to hope that grass-type moves on two of her pokemon that very much weren't grass-types would be enough, and pull out Maelstrom for his resistance to water if that failed.

But what happens at the gym, well... that's another thing entirely. Cynthia starts with Helios, after spending the next two days getting him up to speed with the rest of her team, and is quite glad she does given that Wake's first pokemon is the biggest Gyarados she's ever seen. And considering that Helios is still on the inexperienced side and at a massive disadvantage, he does very, very well against his Quagsire.

"Well done, Helios, come on back," Cynthia calls, and the Jolteon limps back over to her side, scratching his face with a leg. She considers, though not for very long, whether to go for Celeste next or Milady.

"Well fought, so far," Wake proclaims, as his Quagsire pounds its chest with a triumphant cry. "What do you have for me next? A grass-type?"

"Not... exactly," Cynthia responds. She tosses out a pokeball. "Milady, your turn. Come on out and use—"

"Bun!" Milady proclaims, and pulls out her knife.

"...Grass Knot," Cynthia finishes lamely, as Milady uses something that is very much not a Grass Knot. To Wake's credit, he doesn't seem too startled by the fact that her pokemon just stabbed his.

(Honestly, his Quagsire seems even less bothered than his trainer.)

"...Yawn," Wake says seriously, and that Quagsire lets out a massive yawn that even has Cynthia suppressing one of her own. "That's, uh..."

"I know it's not a Grass Knot," Cynthia snaps. "Milady, please, use Grass Knot."

The Buneary gives her a look, but slams a paw down on the ground anyway. Grass erupts under the Quagsire's feet, and while Quagsire isn't exactly the heaviest pokemon, it's much further from being the lightest.

And also there's a little thing like as big a weakness to grass as a Gyarados has to electric.

The Quagsire goes down. And so does Milady, crumpling to the ground caught in the throes of sleep. Cynthia could call it here, depending on whether or not she thinks Milady will wake up in time to do anything. 

She's got Celeste still, after all.

"I'll take the chance," Cynthia says. 

Wake raises an eyebrow but nods, and sends out his final pokemon with a shout of, "Wellerman, go! Aqua Jet!"

She is not surprised to see that his final pokemon is a Floatzel. But she winces, hard, at the attack Milady can't even attempt to dodge. To be fair, the Buneary takes it like a champ, one leg twitching in midair as she is clearly very much asleep.

"You sure you don't want to call it here?" Wake asks again.

Cynthia nods. "I think—Milady, you can do this. If you can hear me, I just need one more Grass Knot. That's all."

Wake shrugs. "Well, alrighty then. I'm going to have to call it pretty soon if you don't, though. Wellerman, Brine!"

The water crashes down on Milady, sending her flying. She ducks, and rolls, and— gets to her feet, slamming the ground with a determined cry of "Bun... ny!"

The grass grows from beneath her, tripping the Floatzel if not anywhere near as devastatingly as the Quagsire. But the grass isn't the only thing that grows. A Lopunny stands tall, now, her paws curled up into fists. She doesn't look at Cynthia.

(Lopunny is a friendship evolution and they both know it.)

"Oho!" Crasher Wake claps briefly, before stomping his own feet in a mimicry of Milady and hollering, "We're not done yet! Aqua Jet, quick!"

"Cut!" Cynthia calls. The Floatzel staggers.

Milady stumbles and falls, this time not from sleep but from complete and utter exhaustion. But Celeste is able to pick up where her teammate left off and secure them the victory with one well-placed Magical Leaf.

And then, well. Cynthia's left with two newly evolved pokemon, her thirteenth gym badge, and a gym leader who looks at her a little too long before asking, uncharacteristically quiet, "Hey. Diana, wasn't it?"

Cynthia sucks in a breath, and forces herself to look him in the eyes, and whispers, "Yes."

Wake nods thoughtfully. "Glad I got that right. Listen. Are... you doing alright?"

She laughs. "No. Definitely not."

"Ah. I... was afraid of that." He frowns. "Would it help to talk about it?"

"Probably," Cynthia says, and she almost does. But then the front door of the gym opens behind her and she picks up her Jolteon and smiles sadly and says, "But I can't right now."

"Master Wake!" Barry hollers, and Wake looks like he's lost about a decade from his life in an instant. "Oh, hey Diana— anyway! I've been practicing with my Buizel like you said! Show him what you can do now, Swift!"

"Bui!" Barry's Buizel agrees. As Cynthia glances over to watch, Swift crawls up Barry's body and does a handstand with his little paws pressed to Barry's.

"That's... impressive," Wake says wearily. "Not exactly what—"

"So what else do I have to do to be an awesome trainer like you, Master Wake?" Barry asks.

"I told you to stop calling me that, okay? Just—be good to your pokemon, they'll be good to you, and you can never go wrong with singing to them!"

"...singing? To them?"

"Singing to them?" Cynthia echoes, moderately curious.

Wake rubs a hand over his face, turns to Barry, and says, "Look, kid, I'm incredibly flattered that you want to learn from me, but I don't need any new gym trainers and I'm not sure that would be a good fit for you anyway. You're young, you're on a journey, and the only water-type you've got is that Buizel of yours. Go finish the gym challenge, think about it a while, and then, if you still think I'm worth learning from, I'll see if I can find somewhere for you. But until then, I mean this in the nicest way possible but please leave me alone."

Barry nods, undeterred. His Buizel leaps up to high-five him with a paw and they both dash out the door, and Cynthia turns back to Wake with a raised eyebrow and the metaphorical Uno reverse card of asking, "Are you okay?"

"Me? Pssh, I'm fine," Wake says dismissively. "Just a little tired—I only got about seven hours of sleep last night."

"Shame." Cynthia decides not to mention that seven is significantly more than what she gets on a good night. "Barry's—a good kid. Bit overenthusiastic sometimes, but—"

"Oh, I know," Wake says. "But if he stays here to learn from me, odds are he'll never finish his gym challenge. True, the odds are against him anyway, but... kid like him? He'd have a decent shot at the league."

Cynthia nods, agreeing, "He would."

"That's! Not to say you wouldn't," Wake says after a moment, laughing awkwardly. "I'm sure you would too, miss—just don't you give up before you get there."

"I—" She blinks hard, and nods. They're talking about two different things now. "I won't."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Because the universe apparently never wants to let Cynthia rest when she needs it the most, never mind let her pokemon rest after an honestly quite exhausting battle, she's literally two feet away from the pokemon center when the ground shakes and there's a loud, unmistakable boom coming from the northeast.

...probably the northeast. Assuming that the gym is to the north.

She has bigger problems here. She'd thought—it's too early for the lake to be bombed. It's too early, it's months too early, why— how

And then she catches sight of a familiar blonde boy in orange sprinting towards the entrance to the Great Marsh, and sees the column of smoke rising up from the marsh proper, and she thinks, oh.

It's not the lake. Not yet. She remembers hearing about the Great Marsh, remembers hearing that some lunatic had set off a bomb there, that he'd escaped the scene. She'd been in the area, somewhat, but she hadn't heard it then. Hadn't felt the ground shake. Hadn't known in her soul that something was oh so very deeply wrong like when Lake Valor was blown up, and it was felt like this halfway across the region.

This... isn't the lake bombing. Not yet. Which means that Cyrus does not have the Red Chain. Not yet.

(Does it make her a bad person that she's relieved?)

Gods. Maybe it does. But that doesn't stop her from grabbing a pokeball she hadn't intended to drop off with the nurse and following Barry. She sees, just the same as he does, the young man in a Galactic uniform with a teal bowl cut slipping out of the gate.

She also sees Barry holler, "HEY!"

The grunt freezes. He shouts something, and starts running. And Barry, champion of challenging his friends to races at inopportune times and winning them all, tears off after him. Cynthia does too, though her stamina definitely isn't what it used to be nor anything comparable to a young teenager that's high-energy even for his age.

She does send out Helios, still tired from the gym but nevertheless able to keep up with her easily. (Unlike most of her other pokemon. That might be a problem now that she thinks about it.)

Though—something else nags at her. The first she'd heard of Team Galactic doing anything besides common vandalism was not them blowing up the marsh. Or the lake, for that matter. No, it was what they did—will do, in Celestic Town. And she'd only heard about that because her sister had called her up out of the blue to yell at her for not being there. She'd had to do her own digging as to what precisely had happened there.

And, well. No one could prove that the grunt who'd threatened to destroy her home had been acting as a part of Team Galactic. And she still hadn't known, not for a while after that, who was really behind Team Galactic.

That's—a problem for future Cynthia.

Present Cynthia catches up with Barry just in time to watch Barry bodily tackle the grunt to the dirt. And he yells, as he gets up and his Roselia sits on the man, "What the fuck did you do?!"

The grunt laughs and stays silent. Smart of him, to not incriminate himself. Or Team Galactic, this early.

Unfortunately for him, Cynthia happens to know exactly what he did, and she says as much: "Set off a bomb in the Great Marsh."

"What??"

"How did you—" The grunt shakes his head. With some difficulty. Cynthia didn't think Roselia was that heavy of a pokemon. "Yeah, so what? You can't prove it was me."

"What the fuck, of course we can, we saw you running away from the place right after it exploded!" Barry pauses and looks at Cynthia. "Diana, you saw too, right?"

Cynthia nods. "Yes—"

"Yeah, well—Lucas and Dawn are in there," Barry says. "I'm sure they're fine! But—"

"Fine? Maybe from the blast itself," the grunt growls. "The bomb worked like a charm! And also definitely agitated the pokemon in the area."

As if on cue, Barry's poketch buzzes. His eyes fall to the screen and he flinches. "No, no, no, they're—okay! They have to be okay!"

"Dawn? Lucas?" Cynthia guesses. Because knowing those two are perfectly good pokemon trainers is one thing entirely.

But even the best trainers can be overwhelmed.

(She'd know. That's how she got into this situation to begin with. That's how Barry and his friends became more than just talented trainers helping out and became the kids they've been this whole time. They're just kids. But evil never discriminates.)

"Lucas," Barry says. He presses the button to accept the call.

Or he tries to, because suddenly he's got a face full of his own Roselia and the grunt is running again. Barry tucks his pokemon under his arm and snarls, "You piece of—"

"Go get Lucas and Dawn," Cynthia says, before she can stop herself. "I'll make sure he doesn't get away."

(She'd been right about Roselia not weighing very much. She doesn't know any specific weights off the top of her head for her own team, but she knows Corundum is too heavy to pick up—that'll be good enough.)

Barry pauses, looking at her—then nods. He sprints back the way they'd come.

Cynthia spares a second to look at Helios—his fur is bristling and sparking, which is about what Cynthia herself is feeling about the situation, too—and then she runs, too.

Now. The thing about wearing heels is that they're... not the greatest for athletic things. Cynthia has years worth of experience with them, and with doing everything from battling to climbing mountains in them.

But running on the ground somewhere between swampy and sandy is... a bit beyond even her.

She has to slow down. And that's when she loses him. But she thinks—she knows now that Team Galactic has a base in Veilstone City. That has to be where he's heading.

She catches just a glimpse of teal hair in the distance as she turns north towards Veilstone—

And then she runs into someone, and they both go down. Cynthia still manages to hope that maybe it is the grunt for about a second more.

And then her eyes meet her own.

And her day just went from bad to worse.  

She grimaces and offers the other Cynthia (she'd been calling her Prime, sometimes, out of a vague understanding of math terminology she never wanted to get too much into) a hand up. "Hi. Sorry, did you see—"

"You?!" Prime blurts. She doesn't take Cynthia's hand, instead pulling herself to her feet and brushing herself off. "Watch where you're going!"

"I—" Okay, well, Cynthia wasn't, but—this past version of her has absolutely no ground to stand on.

And she can't say as much.

"Honestly," Prime mutters, looking rather annoyed. "Shouldn't you be spending time with Cheryl?"

Cynthia blinks. "We have lives...? If you really want to go find her, she's probably still in Pastoria." And she shouldn't say this, but a bitter, vindictive part of her that's as annoyed by this past version of herself as Prime is drives her to add, "Probably helping out with, you know, the bomb that just went off in the Great Marsh."

Prime's eyes widen. "The what? What did you—"

"What did I—" Cynthia glares back. "Well, I was chasing after the culprit, before you stopped me—"

"Well maybe you should have been looking where you were going!"

"Jolll," Helios whines from somewhere near Cynthia's feet, looking between his trainer and... also his trainer, with no small amount of confusion. Cynthia reaches down to pet him and silently promises to explain that particular issue as best she can... later. At some point later.

Definitely not right now, when her past self is being... really, really rude for literally no reason. 

(She vaguely remembers this. But she's pretty sure she'd tried very hard not to, for the rest of the day. She also doesn't remember being outright mean, but—well. This end of things tells a different story entirely.)

"Cute pokemon," Prime comments, crouching and holding her fingers out for Helios to sniff. He does so, curiously, and then looks between the two of them with even more confusion.

"...thanks," Cynthia says slowly.

"You'd better be treating him right."

"I... am? What kind of a person do you take me for—"

(Why does this seem like it's not about Helios? Or at least not just about Helios?)

"Well, you'd either have to be an incredibly nice person for her to love you..." Her eyes narrow. "Or very good at pretending to be an incredibly nice person."

"Who— Cheryl?" Cynthia blurts. "We're not— this doesn't matter right now. The man who blew up the Great Marsh ran right past you. You had to have seen something —he has teal hair and a Galactic uniform."

"Galactic?" Prime raises an eyebrow. "You're telling me you saw someone working for Team Galactic set off some kind of bomb?"

"Well, no," she admits, a tad reluctantly. "I didn't see what happened. But I saw him running away from the scene afterwards—"

"From the sound of it, you also would have been seen running from the scene afterwards," Prime says icily. "If I consider this man as a suspect based on such circumstantial evidence, I'd also have to consider you as a suspect. Besides: I've been here for the past hour. I've seen no one."

Cynthia freezes. "What?! Where did he—"

"Diana!" Someone calls, and she turns to spot Barry racing up towards them. "Where'd that goon run off to—oh, hi! Who's this?"

"Nobody important," Cynthia says—truthfully.

Prime's eyes narrow further and she asks, "Who are you?"

"Uhh, I'm Barry—who are you, her older sister or something?"

Cynthia briefly considers strangling the kid.

"My sister? Don't be ridiculous," Prime practically hisses. "This woman is too tall to be my sister, too old, and significantly too insufferable. Now, if the two of you don't mind, I have a mess to clean up. Good afternoon."  

She practically storms off in the direction of Pastoria. Cynthia considers strangling her past self much more seriously as she passes her.

"What the fuck was that?" Barry demands.

"You say this as if I have any idea," Cynthia mutters. "Her name's Cynthia. She's... got a lot going on right now."

"No excuse to be mean! If I'd been you, I would have challenged her to a battle—"

"I would have lost," Cynthia snaps, and—right now, with the pokemon she's got on hand? It's true even if it hurts a little. "Sorry. I'm just... a little frustrated."

"If you're a little frustrated, I'm a lottle frustrated," Barry mutters. "The fuck is her deal?! ...wait, you said Cynthia? As in Cheryl's ex, that Cynthia?"

"What."

"Or was it your ex? I—can't remember, actually, sorry."

"I promise she's not my ex." Cynthia thinks she'd prefer getting verbally eviscerated by Prime again to this conversation, actually.

"Oh." Barry pauses. "What did you do to her?"

"I did nothing," Cynthia protests, even as she's trying to recall the other end of that conversation. She'd been—annoyed, sure, but she definitely didn't think she'd been that mean to...

...to Cheryl's new girlfriend.

As if reading her thoughts somehow, Barry comments, thoughtfully, "Is she Cheryl's ex? She miiiight be jealous of you or something."

"She's not Cheryl's ex," Cynthia says. "Why don't we—are the twins okay?"

Barry nods. "They're fine, I ran into them at the entrance. So—what, is this Cynthia lady just so much of a coward that she's jealous when she's never even made a move?"

Cynthia stares at him. "I—I don't think... that's it..."

(But what if it is? Is she—was she really jealous of herself?)

(...okay. Maybe she does need to have a talk with Cheryl. If only to clear this up once and for all—because Cheryl's made it pretty clear that she'd never be interested in Cynthia herself, and the absolute last thing she wants to do is lose a friend over a crush she may or may not even have.)

"I hate time travel," Cynthia whispers under her breath.

"What was that?" Barry asks.

"Nothing. Just—frustrated."

The kid nods. "Fucking mood."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Cynthia is... immensely relieved to find out that the damage the bombing dealt to the marsh is mostly superficial, and almost entirely able to be handled by one furious gym leader on his own. Some agitated pokemon, and the Great Marsh ends up being closed to the public as soon as Wake is pretty sure he's gotten everyone who was in the marsh at the time out of it, but... honestly? It could have been worse.

So much worse.

(She catches a glimpse of herself speaking with Crasher Wake, briefly. He'd assured her that he had the situation under control, and so Cynthia had decided she had more important things to do with her time. In retrospect, this was definitely because she didn't want to run into— herself, again.)

The twins had to fight their way out, but that hardly was a problem for either of them—especially not Dawn, who kept attempting to change the subject from what happened in the marsh to her new Wooper, a friendly little creature she'd dubbed Blue. 

And Cheryl—well. She had been running an errand to Hearthome, when it happened.

But she's back now. Making sure the kids, all three of them, are doing okay, as Cynthia finally gets a chance to duck into the pokemon center and patch up her own pokemon from the gym battle hours ago.

(Maybe it was only one hour ago. Time flies when you're panicking! Except when it doesn't and it crawls along agonizingly slowly instead.)

She... really shouldn't be surprised that Cheryl's waiting for her outside the center doors. Or that her friend takes her hand in hers, tugging her off to stand near a few wild-growing berry bushes near someone's house. There's one with a few almost-ripe nanab berries, a couple more with still-green persim, and—

"Cynthia," Cheryl asks, in a low voice. "Are you doing okay?"

"Me? I'm fine," Cynthia says automatically. "I, ah.... did you run into... me? Earlier? At any point?"

"You were—she was here?"

That is a solid no. "Alright. I did."

"Ooooh?" Cheryl raises an eyebrow. "I'm... kind of surprised you weren't more involved—the kids said it was Team Galactic—"

"I... may have accidentally pissed my past self off to the point where she wouldn't believe a word I said and didn't investigate anywhere near as much as she should have?" Cynthia says mareepishly.

Cheryl blinks. And then raises a hand to her mouth to muffle a light snicker. "I'm sorry, that's—how did you even manage that? That's almost impressive!"

"Um." Well, she somehow got herself under the impression that she had been dating Cheryl. And if this were anyone else, she'd think that this was jealousy, but—that's kind of ridiculous. She has—had—no reason to be jealous of that.

...did she? Does she?

"That embarrassing, huh," Cheryl remarks.

"Not really," Cynthia says. "I just... don't want to talk about it."

Except... does she? Not want to talk about it, that is.

It's been a long day. A long—several months. And the worst that could happen is that Cheryl completely deserts her. Which is... not exactly something she wouldn't deserve. She'd deserted Cheryl, after all.

But.

If she can just be cool about this. Let Cheryl know that... hey, maybe she can use the fact that this was the her of a year ago. Maybe she can say that she was crushing on her friend for... some reason, and isn't anymore. Because she isn't. Is she?

Is it normal to occasionally daydream about holding your friend like you'll never let go, closer than you normally would let anyone? About braiding the flowers she used to love into her hair, about seeing her smile?

(Does she still like flowers? She isn't sure. She knows Cheryl better than she did before their paths abruptly crossed again, but that's never come up. Does she still make them into heartfelt arrangements for her friends? She... must have other friends, right?)

The last time she'd really had a crush had to have been Riley. And—she's not sure that ever was anything more than a crush. Distortion, she doesn't even know—or really care, at this point—if he's into girls. But that had hardly felt like this.

Is this normal? Why is she so scared to find out?

"I—think she assumed that you and I were, erm." Cynthia gestures between the two of them. "Together. And was... jealous. Of that."

"O-oh?" Cheryl's voice wavers, briefly. But it steadies like nothing happened when she continues, "You mean to say you're not... dating anyone?"

That... was not what Cynthia meant to say at all, actually. But Cynthia snorts lightly and says, "No? Why do you say that like—that? Like it's a surprise?"

"Because it is? You're the champion," Cheryl says like that explains everything. "You can't have any shortage of people asking you to—well, anything, really."

Slightly confused, Cynthia says, "I... don't? It's been a nice change of pace on that front."

"Oh. That's—good?"

"One good thing to come out of this. Out of... a few, admittedly." Cynthia smiles at her. "I actually have a functional sleep schedule again, which is... kind of nice. You've been somewhat forcing me into self-care lately, and I appreciate that—probably more than you know. Wish you didn't have to, but—thank you. And... well. Most of the good things to come out of this connect back to you."

She reaches to take Cheryl's hand in hers again, looks her in the eyes, and more whispers than says aloud, "I never would have reconnected with you, I don't think. Without this. So that—I'm really happy about that."

Her heart is pounding, she realizes distantly.

Maybe she does, really... and even if she doesn't. She's the champion of Sinnoh, after all, and the Sinnoh Champion is not a coward.

(Not anymore. She's never liked being scared, anyway.)

"Cheryl," she says urgently. "There's something I... need to tell you. Something I maybe should have told you much sooner, but I... well. I didn't. But I can now."

"Alright," Cheryl says. "What—"

"I think I might have a bit of a crush on you? Maybe I have for—a while," Cynthia admits. "You're the kindest person I know, you won't hesitate for anything if you think you can help someone—anyone. And I admire that so much about you. And..." She gulps. Cheryl's expression is—impossible to read, which is not a good sign, so she hastily backpedals, "And—I don't want to make our friendship awkward, I really don't want to lose you as a friend because of something I didn't even notice until today—"

"Cynthia," her friend interrupts, and she goes silent. Cheryl's eyes are wide. She opens her mouth as if to say something and then closes it several times before finally whispering, "Are you blind? I've been trying to figure out if I ever stood a chance with you pretty much since we met."

Cynthia freezes. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Put yourself in my shoes for a second," Cheryl says. "I meet this pretty girl in the forest one moment, and the next she's saving me and my pokemon from Team fucking Rocket. It turns out she's really nice, but she seems—really oblivious. But that's fine, I think, I've got plenty of time. And then you nearly kill yourself saving the region, and we all think that Cyrus did kill themself, and I lose you too. I—wondered sometimes if you were still alive, you know. You don't want to know how often I've been on your league's website, refreshing it just to make sure that you're still— there, because they wouldn't list a dead person as the champion."

Cheryl exhales slowly and continues, either not noticing or purposefully ignoring the look on Cynthia's face, "And then I run into you out of the blue. And you're—I mean this in the nicest way possible—kind of a mess. But you're still the cute girl I met in the forest, my friend who was Chary's original trainer, and the one who just—couldn't and wouldn't let injustice stand. You try so hard. You're always trying so hard, I-I wish you'd try a little less hard sometimes because it's all too easy for you to run yourself ragged. But—you've been through so much. And you're still trying. And I think I still love you. I think maybe I always have, on some level."

"Oh," Cynthia whispers. "I—never knew. I'm not... really good at picking up on that sort of thing."

"I noticed," Cheryl says dryly. She looks down at Cynthia's hand in hers, and gives it a squeeze. "Here's to—figuring things out, I suppose?"

Cynthia drops Cheryl's hand and—hugs her. So tightly, like she'll never let go even though she knows she'll have to eventually. Cheryl makes a surprised little noise before hugging her back.

"I—think I'd love that," Cynthia says into her hair. And then something else entirely occurs to her. "...I'm sure the kids figured this out well before I did, huh."

Cheryl snorts. "Are you kidding? They've been trying to push me into making a move first. Not very effectively, but another month or so and I probably would have."

(They're still holding hands, by the time they find the kids again. Lucas, observant as always, takes one look at them, elbows Barry, and immediately holds out his hand for something. Barry just sighs and passes over some money, and Cynthia can't quite suppress her laughter at that.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

In a certain tabletop roleplaying game known as Dungeons & Druddigons, there are a few cardinal rules to live by. Only one is held as gospel quite so widely that even non-players are familiar: don't split the party. Splitting the party means that you're weaker apart, and also that not everyone can share information and items freely, and also is liable to give the dungeonmaster a splitting headache from having to handle two entirely separate groups at one point in time.

Now, Cynthia isn't familiar with the details, not being an avid player of D&D herself. But she's heard the saying a few times, and has at least a general idea of what it means.

This is not enough to keep her from completely ignoring that saying. The kids have the badges they didn't get already to obtain, and in the end—and after a best-of-three round of fire-water-grass, which Cheryl loses—she agrees to go with Dawn and Barry, leaving Cynthia and Lucas to make for Celestic Town with the secret potion she'd foisted off on the poor kid.

(It had taken. So long to get from Cianwood City. So long, to the point where she'd actually ordered two batches and kept one for herself while entrusting one to the nearest traveling trainer on the off chance they got to the herd of Psyduck before she did herself.

"So, congratulations," is the first thing out of Lucas's mouth, once they part ways from the others at the cafe cabin north of Solaceon.

"Congratulations yourself," Cynthia says, nodding at the shiny new badge he's holding. "You have—had—a good team. Just needed a little more practice. That's five for you now, right?"

Lucas nods. He shines it a little more on his shirt, then pops his badge case back open and carefully deposits the Relic Badge of Hearthome City inside it. "Dawn'll have five really soon, though. And Barry has had five for a couple of weeks."

"So?"

"Ehhh. Badges aren't really my thing."

"And that's perfectly alright."

He nods again, more firmly this time. "Yeah. It is. But I meant, uh. Congrats on the girlfriend? We were starting to think you'd never figure it out. And Barry told me—it was you who made you realize—"

"Yes, it was," Cynthia mutters. She sucks in a breath, pats Lucas on the shoulder, and gestures up ahead. "Keep going. There's a group of Psyduck blocking the path northward, but if you can spray them all with that special potion I—other. me gave you, they should disperse. It's... they all have really bad headaches, and so they seek out other Psyduck for comfort when being in large groups only exacerbates the issue..."

Lucas blinks. "Oookay. First question, how are Psyduck as a species alive."

"Humans find them cute and they handle their powers a lot better once they evolve." 

She had to write a research paper on the species back in college. Given that she'd finally churned the paper out by pulling an all-nighter the night before it was due, she should be impressed she remembers literally anything about that paper. She doesn't even remember the grade she got.

"Gotcha. Second question: you're coming with me, right?"

Cynthia shakes her head. "I do remember getting there myself right after you'd finished with them. I don't remember seeing 'Diana.' Which is for the best, because very few people have hated me quite as much as my past self and most of them are dead. I'll catch up once she's gone."

Lucas swallows. "Riiight. Well, if you remember running into me after I finished, that must mean I do a good job. So... I'll, um, do my best!"

He gives her a mock salute with one hand, pulling out the spray bottle with his other, and jogs over. Cynthia watches him fumble with it from a safe distance, and then finally start spraying the ducks. He's just finishing up when she sees herself walking up, looking remarkably relieved that Lucas had, in fact, handled the problem for her. They exchange a few words, Prime gives him a package and a blue-tinted TM and then walks off with a cheerful wave.

She doesn't even look in Cynthia's direction, before she goes.

"Wow, thanks for the TM for..." Lucas squints at them as Cynthia approaches. "...Surf? What the fuck is that supposed to do?"

Cynthia shrugs. "It's a powerful move. Especially in double battles, though you have to be careful not to hit your allies with it. You swamp the battlefield in a giant wave and just go..." She raises her hands, and brings them down fast, and narrates, "Sploosh."

"Sploosh," Lucas echoes. "TMs are expensive, ma'am. Why are you just handing them out like some kind of gym leader?"

"I had an extra," Cynthia says truthfully. "And I figured you deserved some kind of compensation for running so many errands for me. That's the charm I wanted you to deliver to my grandmother, isn't it?"

Lucas nods slowly. "Well, you didn't say what this was, but..." He shrugs and tucks it under his arm. "You also said there were some very cool ruins in Celestic Town. I definitely don't mind checking it out. Though why couldn't you just deliver it yourself?"

"My family and I are... not close." It sounds so impersonal when she puts it that way. "I don't visit them in person very often."

The boy frowns. "Well, maybe you should while you're here. Use the whole undercover time traveler thing to your advantage, test the waters?"

"Maybe," Cynthia echoes. "Let's just... if we're lucky, we might be able to make Celestic by nightfall."

This is, of course, not accounting for the presence of fog thick and heavy even for this area's standards. She grabs Lucas by the back of his jacket before he can go any further and get lost in it, and mutters, "I don't suppose any of your pokemon know how to defog an area?"

He tugs himself out of her grip and turns to face her. Even standing less than a yard apart, it's hard to make the kid out, and his voice sounds almost distant when he blurts, "Pokemon can do that?"

Cynthia sighs. And bites back several curses. "Yes, it's a technique you have to learn from... I think I remember where, it's not too far from here. It's... possible to travel the route without it, but not ideal. And I haven't been this way in a long time. I... we should go back and deal with that."

"How not ideal do you mean."

"There's at least five trainers every year who think they can navigate the route when it's foggy and stumble off cliffs," Cynthia says flatly.

Lucas flinches. "Ah. Yeah. Let's... not make that be us."

Cynthia snorts. "It would make saving the world pretty hard if we're in the hospital when it starts to end."

And she says it nonchalantly, but—if she can't stop Cyrus...

Who can?

(Can she?)

"Oh, gods, yeah. Let's not." Lucas turns away from the route and asks, tentatively, "Which way?"

In the end, it takes them the rest of the day to secure a way to clear the persistent fog that hangs over the road to Celestic Town. Cynthia shouldn't feel relieved to put it off. And—she feels even less relieved when she checks the date.

Team Galactic will threaten to blow up her home tomorrow.

But traveling in the dark is nearly as bad as traveling in the fog, and Cynthia would like to not trip down any cliffs. She would also like for Lucas to not trip down any cliffs either, and he presumably doesn't even know the path. So... tomorrow.

It'll be cutting it close. Far closer than she likes. But—Cynthia will be there this time. Even if no one knows that she ever was, except for her.

(That's... honestly, probably for the best.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Celestic Town is quiet when Cynthia arrives.

Too quiet. There are a few people milling about outside, but she doesn't see hair in any shade of blue, which means no grunts yet—and more importantly, no Cyrus. ...also, Celestic Town is a bit bigger than she remembers it being.

Granted, the last time she'd visited was... two, three years ago?

...she should visit more often. She always thinks that, and then she never does. Granted, she'd always thought about calling up her old friends—and she finally did, at least one of them, even if it was less calling up and more running into in person —so... maybe that can change too.

"Is this it?" Lucas asks. His Gabite, happily trailing along behind him, raises his head to a pokemon flying overhead and lets out a curious cry.

Cynthia nods. "Yes. There's... something's going to happen, soon. Team Galactic will threaten to blow up the ruins underneath the town, and much of the town with it. This is ostensibly because it is 'worthless to their new world,' but if it was, they wouldn't bother."

"That's... kinda fucked up. But if that's not why, then—"

"Because it's my hometown," Cynthia says. "And they wanted to send a message."

Lucas blinks. "Why would they care that much about... no offense, but you're not that important, or we would have heard of you by now? Beyond, uh, being some very mean woman who—"

"Oh gods, please tell me I wasn't mean to you—"

"Huh? Oh, no. But jealousy is no reason to treat anyone like that."

Cynthia buries her face in her hands, lets out a muffled scream, and says, "I didn't even realize I was—look, I was a mess, okay? I am a mess. We have bigger problems. My sister is—she lives here still, she's going to send me some very angry texts in a few hours about not being here when she needed me. Which means it's going to happen soon."

"You have a sister?"

"Yes, her name's—you'll probably meet her, she looks a lot like me but shorter with glasses, she cannot know that I'm here. Maybe she won't recognize me. I kind of hope she won't recognize me. Although I guess she'd have to not, somehow...?" Cynthia shakes her head. "The logistics of this aren't important right now. Do you think you can head into town for me? Check out the ruins, the entrance is in the center of town? I'll be right behind you, I just want to scout out the other way into town."

Lucas nods. "Right, they used to have a building in Eterna—maybe they'd still approach from that way."

Personally, Cynthia doubts it—there's Mt. Coronet between Eterna City and Celestic Town, after all. But it's definitely worth checking out. And she knows this town, even if there's as many people living here now that she wouldn't know as those she would.

And so she skirts around the edge of town, tucked as much into a slightly too small overcoat as she can, and hopes—hopes that it will somehow be enough. Hopes that the combination of normally wearing much darker colors and normally having contacts on will be enough.

Hopes that—

"Cynthia?"

Fuck. She isn't able to keep herself from stiffening, But she doesn't look over, maybe if Cynthia doesn't acknowledge the greeting then she'll think she was mistaken.

"Don't you fucking ignore me," her sister hisses, and yeah, okay, she knows.

Cynthia's shoulders slump as she turns, and mumbles, "Hi, Celia."

Celia squints at her suspiciously. "What the fuck are you wearing, and what the fuck are you even doing here?"

"I—" Cynthia winces. She would... really rather not have this conversation smack dab in the middle of the western path into town. "It's a disguise. I'm undercover."

"It's a shitty one."

"I know." She glances out to the west again. Still nothing, so—maybe Team Galactic will approach from the east. Or maybe they just aren't here yet. She lowers her voice and says, "I... honestly don't know if you'd believe me if I told you."

Her sister snorts. "Try me."

"I, there's..." There's no one else within earshot. Perks of growing up in a tiny town that only recently got its own pokemon center, she supposes. So she looks her sister in the eyes and says, "Team Galactic is going to try to blow up the ruins today. I'm here to stop them."

"What—how do you even know that, Team Galactic's just that weird energy company? And why not—" Celia waves her hands vaguely as she tries to figure out the words to say. "Why be undercover then? You're intimidating as shit, especially with your pokemon, so why ruin that?"

"Because there are two mes running around and the other one doesn't know that," Cynthia snaps.

"That—what the fuck?" Celia stares at her. Eventually she says, "That's too crazy even for you to lie about. Why are there two Cynthias. What did you do?"

"I didn't—" She pauses. "Well actually, I guess I kind of did, but—there was an incident, and I ended up a year in the past."

"What did you do?"

"...got attacked by the gods of time and space?"

"Wh— why did they —"

"It's a very long story and I don't want to get into it right now," Cynthia says a tad desperately. "Look, there's—can we just get to where we can watch the entrance of the ruins? I can handle it, but not if I'm not there."

Celia nods, and starts walking. Though she doesn't take her eyes off her sister. "And why weren't you there the first time?"

"Because I didn't know. Because—I had no idea that Team Galactic was the threat they were and are, and I didn't even know about what happened here until afterwards, and..." Cynthia takes a deep breath. "I know they failed, with or without my help. But I had to be here this time."

"So you felt guilty," Celia concludes. "Would it kill you to say you're sorry? For once in your goddamn life? For—literally anything?"

"I—" Cynthia freezes, looking past her. "Oh no."

"What?" Celia follows her gaze. "Oh. Shit. That's someone from Team Galactic, isn't it."

"That's the one person from Team Galactic who would recognize me."

Because the grunts might have a similar shade of hair, but it's always bowl-cut. Never spiked up. That's Cyrus themself going into the ruins, with something that the light glints off of in their hands that could be a detonator.

"...that's because your disguise is shit, Cynthia... hey, Cynthia?"

(Logically speaking, of course, Cynthia knew that Cyrus had to have been personally involved in this. On some level, at least. One, because they're the true mastermind behind Team Galactic. And two, because she doesn't exactly advertise where she grew up or where she lives currently for a reason. But they'd know. Of course they'd know, they'd been here on multiple occasions back when they were still rivals collecting badges and the world hurt a little less to bear.)

"I can't risk them recognizing me," Cynthia whispers. "But—I pointed a friend of mine, kid around your age, towards the ruins. He's a decent battler, but bad luck can happen to—anyone..."

"Yeah, look, I've only got my Glaceon, but he's sleeping at home, and he's not a battler." With a pointed look at Cynthia, she adds, "Yet."

That feels like a threat of some kind but Cynthia's got bigger problems right now. She tries to remember what Cyrus's team had been like—they'd favored dark-types, and flying-types. Hopefully that hasn't changed.

She thinks things through perhaps more quickly than she should, and then offers her sister two pokeballs. "Helios is the Jolteon, he knows Pin Missile, Quick Attack, Double Kick, and Shock Wave. Maelstrom is the Prinplup, he knows Whirlpool, Bide, Brine, and Metal Claw."

"Wait, what?" Celia stares. "Those aren't your pokemon—"

"They are, just… I haven't seen my old team in months," Cynthia says, and her sister's eyes go wide. "But I'm going to fix this, I'm going to see them again—I may not be able to go myself but I can help you. It's... the least I can do. I'm sorry I can't do more."

Slowly, Celia nods. She takes the offered pokeballs. And she says, "You'd better still be here when I get back."

"I will be," Cynthia promises, as her baby sister turns and runs.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Cynthia finds out later that there had already been a grunt within the ruins, when she saw Cyrus going in. She finds out later that while Lucas probably could have handled the two of them in a double battle on his own, but Celia taking on the grunt with her pokemon definitely helped.

She also finds out later that the reason that grunt had been identified as the culprit and Cyrus hadn't was because Celia full on tackled him before he could attempt to flee, no pokemon necessary.

"Being shorter means I'm more full of rage," Celia explains cheerfully, as Cynthia scritches her Prinplup between his crests. "Closer to the distortion world and all that."

"There is no evidence for the distortion world actually existing," Cynthia says, "and if it did exist there's literally nothing supporting it being below us—"

"I was trying to make a joke," her sister says significantly less cheerfully.

"Oh." She winces. "Sorry."

"So..." Celia looks over at Lucas. "She's not lying, huh. About the time travel thing."

"Nooooo?" Lucas says. "Why would you lie about that?"

"I dunno, shits and giggles?" Celia shrugs. "She's weird."

"Not going to deny that," Cynthia mutters. She takes a deep breath, and lets it out. "Celia, I'm sorry I haven't visited more often. But, hey, if you're still mad at me, you're going to love how I found out about the attack."

Celia perks up a bit. "Oooh?"

It's very weird, and definitely not a good weird, to be on the other end of a second phone call to herself. Particularly considering that Celia doesn't let her past self get a single word in as she verbally tears her a new one and then some.

But then her sister hangs up, and turns to her, and says, "You're right. I do feel a lot better after that. Was that good enough?"

"Definitely," Cynthia says.

"Priiii," Maelstrom says, looking between the sisters with a moderate amount of concern reflected in his eyes.

"It's fine, it's not as if I don't deserve it," Cynthia says dismissively, and somehow the Prinplup looks more concerned. "I've been pushing... a lot of people away lately. At least now I have a chance to fix that."

"Yeah, and if you don't come back to visit or at least drop me a text to let me know the world's not actively ending when this is over, I will break into the Pokemon League and find you," Celia threatens, jokingly. Hopefully.

"Get eight badges first."

"Oh, no, that wasn't a joke, I will break in," Celia says more seriously. "You can't stop me."

"...please don't?"

"Then don't make me have to. Problem solved." Celia glances at the closed door of the local pokemon center, as if waiting for Lucas to come out. He doesn't yet. "That aside... thanks for coming at all."

Cynthia blinks hard. "Like I said, it was—the least I could do."

"Priiiin." Maelstrom looks, and sounds, even more concerned now. He headbutts her leg gently, and then—once she's looking at him—

"Oh holy shit," Celia whispers, as her pokemon, soon to be a Prinplup no longer, starts to glow with the light of evolution. "Never seen one of those before."

"Evolution is—always impressive to watch," Cynthia says with a smile. "There's a reason the professor down in Sandgem specializes in it. And... Maelstrom?"

"Polllll?" asks the newly evolved Empoleon.

"I am so proud of you."

Maelstrom chuffs lightly, and reaches up with a much larger wing to pat her on the shoulder. The door to the pokemon center opens. Lucas steps outside from it, takes one look at her newly evolved Empoleon, and goes, "He evolved? That's incredible!"

"It is," Cynthia agrees. "It definitely is."

In the end, Barry is incredibly put out that he missed an opportunity to fight someone, Dawn is incredibly put out that she missed an opportunity to fight Team Galactic, and Cheryl—once Cynthia has an opportunity to talk to her privately—is incredibly put out that she missed a chance to see Cyrus.

But hey. All three of the kids have their badges now, and the next gym on the list is Canalave. Riley was from around there, Cynthia remembers. And when she asks Cheryl if he might still be somewhere around there,  if they're still in contact, the only thing she gets from her girlfriend (!!!) is a knowing smile.

... so, that's probably a yes.

She hasn't seen or talked to Riley for as long as she hadn't seen or talked to Cheryl. Longer, even, because it's been a few months since she reconnected with Cheryl. It hasn't felt like that long. And yet it's felt like the longest amount of time in the world.

Needless to say, she's a little worried. And she figures, maybe she can just... take some time for herself before dealing with that particular conversation. And before dealing with the gym, because she does not think she could defeat Byron right now.

It's with this in mind that she hops on a ferry to Iron Island. The ferry itself is practically deserted—not exactly what she expected, but it has been years—and the island is deserted, when she gets there. Deserted except for herself, and her pokemon, and the wild pokemon she knows are around here somewhere.

It's... nice, kind of. She'd been so scared for so long of being left alone with her thoughts that she'd just kept busy to avoid that. But the island is peaceful—if you can call a place that used to be an old mine peaceful when there's always the movement of some massive, slow rock-type pokemon or another.

Corundum certainly seems to like the place. Of all her current pokemon, she's the only one who hasn't evolved yet. And she certainly doesn't seem in any hurry to do so.

In theory, Golem is one of those evolutions you're supposed to have to trade your pokemon to get. In practice, Cynthia knows Bertha certainly wasn't trading pokemon to get her Golem, so there's got to be some other way.

Whatever it is—Cynthia's sure she'll find out sooner or later, whenever Corundum is ready. But for right now, training is the best thing she can do. She's thinking that Corundum, Maelstrom, and Milady will probably be her go-to team.

...wait. Is it the sixth or seventh gym where both the leader and the challenger are allowed to use four pokemon?

She should know this. She really should know this.

Well. If all else fails, she can prepare for both and adjust on the fly. Celeste is out, Helios is definitely out, and so by process of elimination... Lunare, then.

"Graveh?" Corundum calls back, and Cynthia realizes that the literal rock-type is dangerously close to leaving her behind. She laughs a little to herself, and jogs to catch up.

"Just thinking," she informs her Graveler. "It's been... a long few months, huh."

"Graaa," Corundum agrees. 

Cynthia pats her on one of her massive rocky arms. "It'll be over soon, though. I'm just tired. And worried. I—know we can do it, I just have to... not hesitate this time."

She hesitates. And then she whispers, "You'd think that would be easy."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

For a place called Iron Island, there's a distinct lack of steel-type pokemon in the outer portions of the defunct mines. Every wild pokemon Cynthia has run into here so far, however, has been weak to either rock moves or ground moves, and so between a well-timed Earthquake or several Rock Blasts in a row, Corundum has been having a great time.

Cynthia has been, too. It's alone in the wilderness where she's in her element, and while she's always... uneasy when there's solid rock above her head, it's much farther above than the rocky ceiling she sees in her nightmares. Far smoother, too. She's underground, but not Underground, and that distinction matters... quite a bit. At least to her.

(Quite a few archaeological sites are located underground, after all. And she wasn't about to let something stupid like what happened to her ruin yet another dream.)

And so she finishes off the pack of fruit gummies that Cheryl had snuck into her bag at some point, puts it in a side pocket of said bag to be thrown away the next time she actually sees a wastebin, and says, "Well. No reason we shouldn't go any deeper, is there?"

Corundum certainly doesn't seem to think so. She makes her way towards a roughly hewn stairwell. Cynthia follows her, trailing a short distance behind her pokemon and running a hand along the wall. The last time she was here was... well. A very long time ago, for starters. But also, it had been with Riley.

They'd gotten their Riolu together, here. ...not that his stayed a Riolu for very long.

Smiling absently, she almost— almost —doesn't see brilliant blue out of the corner of her eye. She's unobservant sometimes, true... maybe more often than sometimes. But the terrain in the cave is all greys and browns, not blues.

She looks. It's a small mercy that he's got his back to her, but—oh gods, that's him, alright. He's still wearing that hat. He doesn't seem to have noticed her.

Maybe—maybe she can just. Grab Corundum and run and try this again once she's had a few minutes to calm down and stop her heart from pounding because oh gods.

(She'd left him behind, too. She certainly doesn't deserve to have that just forgotten about.)

Alright. Time to pick up Corundum and veeery quietly go back up the stairs, Cynthia thinks, crouching down to pick up the Graveler.

There are a few issues with her plan. The most obvious of which occurs when she tries to lift up the rather large rock-type and Corundum doesn't budge. Distantly, she remembers reading somewhere that the largest Graveler on record was something like three hundred pounds. Corundum definitely isn't anything close to the largest, but she's much farther from being the smallest.

She hasn't quite accepted the futility of her plan when a voice she knows asks, "... what are you doing?"

"Weightlifting," Cynthia blurts before her mind's fully caught up to her mouth.

Riley's... still not looking at her. But he sounds incredibly dubious when he says, "Cynth, you can't seriously be... what are you really doing?" He turns. And an eyebrow shoots up. "What are you wearing?"

"I... hi, Riley," Cynthia says mareepishly, standing up and dusting herself off. "It's a long story. How have—how are you doing?"

"...good?" Riley says. The eyebrow raises further. "You—I'd ask how you're doing, but—"

"...aura?" She guesses, and gets a nod. "It's. There's a lot going on right now. But it's—good to see you, really. And I—I'm so sorry."

"For... what?" He asks carefully.

And Cynthia—

"I can't do this anymore," she whispers, and bursts into tears. "I-I can't—Cyrus is alive. They're trying to destroy the world. I'm from the future and there's another Cynthia on the other side of Sinnoh who is even more of a mess than I am and also hates me for actually having gotten some of my life together, unlike her, and—"

"Whoa, okay, please slow down," Riley says gently. "Cynthia. I—listen. Do you need... no. Do you want a hug?"

"I think—" She blinks hard, and wipes her eyes on her sleeve, and makes a valiant attempt at regaining some of her composure. "I could probably use one."

"I thought you might. Just... deep breaths, Cynth, alright? And then you can tell me what's going on."

"I should have reached out sooner," Cynthia says miserably. "I shouldn't have waited for the— world to be ending before reaching out again."

"No," Riley agrees. "But I'm glad you reached out for any reason. You're... listen, your aura, it's... it's like you can't decide whether to lash out or just... hold everything in that's bothering you. Neither of those things are healthy. Whatever's going on—"

"Cyrus is going to destroy the world in—" She squints at her poketch screen, and smacks it a few times. It's gotten difficult to read the date lately but she's got a couple months left at least. "Soon. Or try to. I failed the first time. That's why I'm here now."

"...alright, I kind of hoped I misheard that part." Riley sucks in a breath. "I... when did you get a Graveler?"

"After all of my other pokemon were left in the future," Cynthia replies. She breaks away from the hug, gets down on her knees, and just—hugs Corundum, too. She leans her head against the rock-type and closes her eyes, and says, "I miss them—so much, Riley. And they don't even know I'm gone."

"That's... gods," Riley says. "Alright. This was not how I was expecting my day to go, I'll admit. Uh... listen, I came here because I heard something about the wild pokemon being a lot more disruptive than usual, that wasn't anything to do with you, was it?"

Cynthia shakes her head. "I doubt it. I only got here a few hours ago."

"And I've been hearing about that for weeks," Riley responds. "I've got to investigate this, then—you're welcome to come with me, if you want. If not..." He frowns. "I don't really want to leave you alone right now. You've got your pokemon... what's their name?"

"She's Corundum," Cynthia says. "It was one of the hardest rocks I could remember off the top of my head, it seemed fitting."

"Ahhh." Riley nods. He holds out a hand to her. "Investigate this with me? Just like old times? And then—I swear on my honor as an Aura Guardian, I'll do whatever I can to help you stop whatever it is Cyrus is doing."

Cynthia nods. She blinks hard. And she whispers, "Thank you."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Riley's... got a point. Cynthia couldn't say for sure how agitated the wild pokemon here would be normally, but they sure do seem on edge. And she wouldn't complain, because pretty much everything is still weak to either Rock Blast or Earthquake, except—

"This might be asking too much of you," Riley says suddenly, "but do you think you could... hold off on the Earthquakes?" His Lucario, Anubis, is dusting himself off beside his trainer, and... ah. Right.

Oops. She should have thought about that sooner.

"I can do that, sorry," Cynthia says.

"Nah, don't be. He still knows Bone Rush, I can handle anything with a weakness to that."

Anubis nods curtly, not taking his eyes off Cynthia for... some reason. It's a little unnerving.

"You sure?" Cynthia asks. Corundum's probably strong enough to handle her part of the gym battle at this point, so she recalls her Graveler for now in favor of Milady, who shakes out her fur and promptly plants her foot in a wild Steelix's face.

"Yup. I didn't exactly... bring any pokemon besides him today," Riley says, as his Lucario shifts his gaze from Cynthia to give him a distinctly disapproving look. "What? It's—do not give me that, Anubis, you and I both know we can handle everything here and then some! How's, uh. Aster doing?"

"Good," Cynthia says. 

(Because she is, across the region, probably tearing through challengers to the Pokemon League right about now. Cynthia may be... somewhat lackluster when it comes to caring for herself, but her pokemon are and always have been her top priority. So she knows Aster is doing just fine, without her. Without even knowing that she's gone.)

"Wait, you don't..." Riley grimaces. "Never mind. So, a Lopunny, huh?"

"This is Milady," Cynthia agrees. "Mind the knife."

"The... knife? What knife?"

Not bothering to wait for an order, Milady promptly stabs a wild Golbat. It flees instead of attempting to fire off another Confuse Ray at her, and Milady hisses, "Lop! Lopunny!" after it.

"Oh," Riley says, staring a little. "That knife. Cynth? Why does your Lopunny have a knife."

"Why doesn't yours?" Cynthia asks.

"Because I don't have a Lopunny? And also because—that's not the issue here!"

Cynthia shrugs. "One, I have more important things to worry about than taking away her knife, like the literal world ending. Two, I trust her not to stab anything I don't want her to anymore."

"Anymore?!"

Anubis glances over at Milady and asks, "Rio?"

Whatever he'd said must have been funny, because Milady just laughs before bouncing a little on her feet and replying, "Punny!"

"You met Banshee, she wasn't that much harder to handle when I first caught her," Cynthia says dismissively.

Riley gives her a look. "Somehow, I strongly doubt that."

"That's not—" She clears her throat. "That doesn't—matter right now. Have you heard of a group called Team Galactic?"

"The name sounds vaguely familiar, but—Cynth. You can't bottle everything up forever."

"We're talking about me catching a pokemon here, how is that even relevant —look. Think Team Rocket but instead of wanting to make money they want to destroy the world because they just really hate emotions."

"...oh dear," Riley says, now looking moderately to severely alarmed. "And Cyrus is in charge of that."

(Maybe a part of them died when Cynthia thought they did. Maybe all of the quiet kid that was her friend did, but it—still hurts. Maybe a part of her died somewhere between then and now, too. And maybe that part hasn't come back from the dead.)

"I knew they were starting to become a problem, but I had no idea Cyrus was in charge until, well..." Until she ran into Dawn shortly after the lake bombing. Until Dawn told her that she'd fought the leader of Team Galactic and described them and the sheer weight of Cynthia's regrets started to crush her all over again. "You might be better off not knowing what until it happens, honestly—we can't stop it because, well. I would never have ended up here if it didn't happen."

"No causing a paradox," Riley agrees. "Everything's fair game after the point where you got sent back in time, right?"

"Right. It's—" Cynthia pauses, suddenly. "...Riley. Would there be any other trainers here at the moment?"

"Normally, yeah, trainers from the gym come out here all the time." Riley shrugs, shutting his eyes in concentration. "These days... no, not really. Give me a second..."

"If you pass out on me, I will not let you hear the end of it and I will also be informing Cheryl," Cynthia says, because she's been at the aura sensitivity rodeo before.

"Firstly, I know my limits, thank you very much, I haven't knocked myself out in years," Riley says, opening his eyes. "Second—"

"Years?" Cynthia echoes dubiously.

"Years, as in multiple," Riley clarifies. "Secondly—wait, you've been talking to Cheryl?"

"Not before the... time travel. You know." Cynthia waves a hand. "Do you see anything?"

"There's a couple of aura signatures that might be humans up ahead," Riley says, starting to walk again. Anubis joins him. "And I'm glad you're talking to her again, too. Though that reminds me... what happened to, er..." He turns back to face her and gestures vaguely at his head.

"The stones?" Cynthia asks, just to confirm. She reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls one out, holding it out for Riley to see. "I got them made into hairclips. The downside of that is that I'm very recognizable while wearing them, and... I'm trying to not. Be recognized."

"Got it," Riley says, eyeing the hairclip she's holding warily. "Please keep that away from me, Cynth—"

"Oh! Sorry. I—thought it was fine so long as you weren't in contact with it?"

"Ehhhhhh?" Riley makes a so-so gesture. "I can deal for a little while, but I'd like to keep that little while available for if you need another hug."

"Oh." Cynthia blinks, a bit harder than normal, as she puts it away. "I—thanks."

"Hey, no problem," he says with a slight grin. "That's what friends are for, and... hey. I'd like to think we're still friends."

Cynthia ducks her head in a nod. "Me too. Even if..." She shakes her head, forces a smile. "Never mind."

"Cynth," Riley says sharply. "We literally just talked about this. You cannot bottle things up or it will destroy you. And, personally, I'd rather not have that happen. I promise you can talk to me, okay?"

"Okay. It's just..." Cynthia's smile turns a little sad. "When did you become the mature one?"

"I... could not tell you, but I maintain that I wasn't that immature—"

Something shakes the earth nearby. Something that, judging by the alarmed look Riley exchanges with his Lucario, is very much coming from the direction of the people he'd detected with aura.

Gaze hardening, Riley points at Cynthia and says, "We are continuing this conversation later. Now come on!"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

It's Team Galactic, because of course it is. Luckily for the sake of Cynthia's rapidly dwindling patience, their presence on Iron Island is nothing more than an incompetent pair of grunts with weak pokemon and weaker constitutions when it comes to stomaching a loss. Cynthia's pretty sure she would have been able to handle them with just the pokemon she had on hand, personally.

...but. Riley, and his Lucario which could and has gone toe to toe with her own in the past, are nevertheless much appreciated. Even if, after they chase the grunts to a tiny motorboat moored across the docks from the ferry and they flee, Cynthia finds herself dreading what comes next.

"Hey, Cynth," Riley says at last. "Listen, I—"

"How much do you know?" Cynthia asks, quite suddenly turning back to him. "Back when I... you know." Her hairclips feel heavier than normal in her coat pocket. "I could only ever get a general sense of what people were feeling. But you were always better than me at that. So—"

"It's still mostly a general sense, unless I'm actively trying harder," Riley says. "But I... gods, Cynth, I can tell that something's eating at you. And I'm pretty sure it... involves me. Am I wrong?"

Cynthia stares out at the water, closes her eyes, and contemplates stealing the ferry for all of two seconds before she remembers that she doesn't know how to drive a boat. It can't be that different from a car, but better not to risk it.

"No," she says. "You're not."

"Ah," Riley replies. Quieter, he says, "Is it something to do with what you said back in Snowpoint?"

"I—had honestly hoped you forgot about that, but no. That's not—" Cynthia shakes her head. "If it helps, I think I was crushing on you, but—haven't even thought about that for years, honestly, and clearly you weren't interested if you never said anything—"

Though Cheryl never said anything, either, did she.

Riley laughs, a little uncomfortably. "I was hoping you'd forget about it if I never said anything. I'm much happier with being friends. Was much happier with being friends."

"Yeah," Cynthia says, opening her eyes to stare back out at the sea. "Me too."

"...Cynth, why did that make you sadder?"

"Because—" She turns to face him, unable to suppress the tears now no matter how hard she tries. "Because why would you still want to be friends? Why would you still care about me at all, I don't—I don't get it, Riley. Cheryl did because she's been secretly in love with me for years, plural, and still is, and I'm still reeling slightly from that but that isn't the issue here, she still was incredibly angry with me for just leaving her behind and I—why aren't you? How can you not be?"

"Oh," Riley says, eyes growing wide. "That's it, then. I—won't lie to you, I'm not exactly as calm about this as you think I am."

Cynthia snorts, and half-jokes, "Spare some of that composure for someone who desperately needs it?"

Riley sighs. Rubs his eyes. "I'm angry at you for just cutting everyone off... cutting me off. But why would I be angry at you for reaching out again? That, I think, would be a very fast way to get you to do the opposite and that's the last thing I'd want. Have you considered that I missed you? That I'm really glad to see you again, regardless of the circumstances?"

"It's been—a long several months." She pauses, and amends, "A long several years, actually. I didn't want to assume—"

"Then don't assume." He gives her that earnest look, the one she associates—accurately or not—with him being about to do something particularly stupid, usually involving aura, and almost always resulting in knocking himself out in the process. But he does nothing, except say, very seriously, "When things inevitably go wrong again, Cynth, what are you going to do? Are you going to leave the people who care about you behind again?"

"Gods, I hope not," Cynthia murmurs. "That, I—I told myself you were better off without me. Since Cyrus—"

"...since Cyrus?" Riley prompts, a tad warily.

"Since they... died, I thought, because of me." She looks away. 

There it is, out in the open. Finally, the reality of the terrible person she is, is out there. Cheryl, she's... tried to tell her, but couldn't quite bring herself to. Not after Cheryl had made it so abundantly clear that she'd fallen in love with the good person she isn't,  

"What— Cynth. You can't blame yourself for that."

"And why not?" Cynthia asks. "They were going to be the champion. Instead, I am, and they were—dead. You never wondered, Riley? Not even a little?"

"I should have been able to tell they weren't dead," Riley says abruptly. "You can't feel someone's aura when they're gone. You just feel—this horrible absence where they should be. And I—it hurt too much to even try to reach out for them, because I thought I knew what was waiting. But if I hadn't been... honestly, a coward, then we'd be having a very different conversation right about now."

"You can't blame yourself for not..." She pauses. Riley's grinning at her. "Wait."

"If I can't blame myself, then..." He looks a little sad. "Neither can you. Cyrus made their own decisions, and so did you, and so did I. You can't blame yourself for someone else's suicide. Particularly since they aren't actually dead—"

"But that doesn't mean they didn't try," Cynthia says. "And that means we—weren't there for them when they would have needed us most."

Riley shuts his eyes. "Yeah. It does. But blaming ourselves for it now isn't going to fix anything. No amount of guilt can change the past, Cynth. No matter how much you want it to."

"You're right, I know. It's just—"

"Do you?" Riley asks. "Cynthia. If you've been blaming yourself for this, all this time... listen to me. You couldn't have known what they'd do. Then, or now. This isn't your fault, do you understand me? This isn't your fault."

"Are you su—"

"Yes," Riley says firmly. "I'll say it as many times as I need to for you to believe me, and so will Cheryl. We're both still here for you, Cynthia, I promise. ...though I would appreciate you actually picking up your phone the next time something goes wrong?"

Blinking hard, Cynthia lets out a wry laugh. "If I don't, you have my full permission to break in and shake some sense into me. ...though you might have to wait in line after my sister and my girlfriend."

"Fair eno—you have a girlfriend?" He pauses. "Wait, is Cheryl-?"

"Yeeees?" Cynthia says warily.

He laughs. "Oh gods, I thought she'd never do anything. Glad that worked out!"

Cynthia glares at the ocean, and mutters, mostly to herself, "I really was the last to know, wasn't I."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"So that's why you weren't at home," is the first thing out of Cheryl's mouth once they're off the ferry. "Hi, Riley. Was wondering why you weren't picking up my calls, either."

"You know there's no reception in the old mine," Riley says with a laugh. "Surprised you're not more worried about Cynth here—"

"Her poketch doesn't work, she told me where she was going, I trust her not to get into too much trouble over the span of a few hours,"  Cheryl says dismissively. And then she looks more closely at Cynthia, squints suspiciously, and continues, "Alright, what trouble did you get into?"

"Team Galactic was causing problems. Again," Cynthia supplies. "And it's not that my poketch doesn't... well, okay, maybe I should start thinking about getting a new one but—" She smacks it lightly. "It's literally got the exact same number as it did before... you know."

"Shenanigans," Riley says.

"Time travel," Cheryl agrees, slightly quieter.

"Yes," Cynthia says. "So I've just... had it muted for the past several months. Anyone calling me would also be calling her, so I've just. Not."

"You could get a new poketch?" Riley offers. "You... probably should, actually, if it's breaking."

"I could. I kind of like my number though? And if I got the same number, that wouldn't fix the problem. At all..." 

Cheryl shrugs, looping an arm through Cynthia's, and says, "Then we'll just have to make sure someone's keeping an eye on you who does have a functioning poketch, won't we? Riley. How much has she told you?"

"Um," Riley says.

"Everything, unless I forgot something," Cynthia says, now trying to remember if she did forget something. If that's the case, however, it ends up staying forgotten, and she eventually shrugs helplessly and admits, "I almost certainly did, but I couldn't tell you what."

"I kinda gathered that you're undercover? Didn't get a name, though. Or are you just still going by Cynth—"

"I'm not that bad at this!"

Cheryl snorts. "Diana. We're calling her Diana. There's a group of kids we've been traveling with from Twinleaf—Dawn's the borderline feral teenager who reminds me of Cynthia back when we were journeying together, Barry is the blonde kid who acts like he'll die if he doesn't sprint absolutely everywhere at all times, Lucas is the quiet one who actually does know about the time travel thing."

"He doesn't know who I am besides Cynthia, though," Cynthia offers, a tad cheekily. "I don't think he or any of his friends have thought to try the internet yet. Which is probably for the best, they'd figure me out real fast that way. Or at least he would—Dawn and Barry have no idea that my real name isn't actually Diana."

"Right. Okay." Riley sighs. "At least you're having fun with this?"

Cynthia shrugs. "At this point? I'll take what I can get. Also, it's kind of funny to see what kind of weird conspiracies they're coming up with together at this point."

"They have 'Diana' in some kind of weird love quadrangle with me, Cynthia... and the Sinnoh Champion," Cheryl says, looking very much like she's trying not to laugh.

Riley blinks. "But three of those people are..."

"I know." Cheryl cackles. "I know and it's hilarious and I personally cannot wait to see the looks on their faces when they all figure out what we already know."

"...gods, yeah, me neither."

"I'll try to take a picture, I'm sure at least one of them will make it to the Pokemon League, and when they do..." Cynthia grins. "But that's definitely a post-Galactic problem. We've got less than two months to go and I, personally, would like to have all of my gym badges before I have to get back to already having all my gym badges."

"This is making my head hurt," Riley comments.

"Join the club," Cynthia says brightly. "Honestly, it could have been worse. Much worse. One year is much better than... ten, or gods forbid, a hundred."

Riley grimaces. "On the one hand, I think you'd be somewhat in your element if it was far enough in the past. On the other, we'd never see you again—"

"Which is something I've had more than enough of, personally," Cheryl cuts in. "No fucking thank you."

"Yeahhh..." Cynthia shakes her head. "I'll take what I can get. And I'd miss—a lot of things. It would be fascinating to visit the far past, definitely, but I wouldn't want to stay there for very long. I've been kind of losing my mind from just this alone."

Cheryl nods. There's understanding in her eyes when she says, "You miss Aster, don't you?"

"I miss all my pokemon. But—yes."

"I couldn't... imagine not seeing Hope for that long," Cheryl says wistfully. 

"Or Anubis, here," Riley agrees. "There's definitely something special between you and your first pokemon. Working together is new to both of you, and you're not very good at this yet, but you'll get there. And Cynth—Aster's known you way longer than any of us, hasn't she?"

Nodding, Cynthia feels briefly like there's a lump in her throat. "I wouldn't say way longer, it was only about a year or so, but—a bit longer, yes. It's just... not so much longer, now."

Thinking about people's first pokemon—Cyrus's Weavile had been theirs, hadn't she? And they'd just... left her behind, left all their pokemon behind, for years. Cynthia may have left her friends behind too, but at least—she didn't leave her pokemon. 

(She has to wonder— was there really more to their decision, stealing their old pokemon from right under her nose? Or was it really just a matter of convenience, like they said? She'll—have time to figure that out afterwards.)

"Cynthia?" Cheryl is waving a hand in front of her face.

"Huh? Yeah? Sorry, was... thinking," Cynthia says. "What was that?"

"Well," Riley says, rubbing the back of his neck. "I was thinking, Anubis and I accidentally came across a Riolu egg—long story, not as interesting as you think, and I'd need a few drinks before I'd be willing to share it—and since you can't use your usual pokemon... you want an egg?"

"Normally, I'd say yes, but Cheryl may have beaten you to that."

Cheryl shrugs unapologetically. "Helios is adorable."

"Helios?" Riley raises an eyebrow.

"You are not the only mythology nerd in Sinnoh, you know," Cynthia says. "But... yeah, my team's pretty much full. Sorry."

"Don't be, it was just a thought." Riley shrugs noncommittally. "What about those kids you mentioned?"

"What are they up to?" Cynthia asks, glancing over at Cheryl.

"Barry is challenging the gym, Lucas and Dawn were fighting each other over near the library," Cheryl says. "But I'm pretty sure..."

"Lucas has had six, I'm pretty sure Dawn has six... Barry just has five, doesn't he? He picked up that Heracross when Lucas and I were in Celestic..."

Cheryl shakes her head. "He's only got five he's actively using, but he's got a Munchlax now he doesn't use in battles yet. So... technically six."

"A Munchlax?" Riley raises an eyebrow. "That's rather impressive, actually—those are fairly rare. And a Heracross?"

Cheryl nods. "He was getting tired of waiting for Dawn to beat one of the gyms, so I taught him how to use honey and... I don't think I've ever seen him stay in one place for that long before? Ever?"

"The urge for cool new pokemon must have been strong," Cynthia says with a laugh. "...or he was just really bored. You know, now that I think about it, I can't remember if Dawn has a sixth pokemon yet off the top of my head? I know she's been catching and releasing things for the professor, we all have been, but... hmm."

"You think she'd be interested?" Riley asks.

"That's what I'm not sure about. I sort of gave her an egg already and given how much she complained about hatching it in retrospect... maybe not. Though a lot of that complaining was more about me—the other version of me, to be clear, not current me." Cynthia pauses, considering. "Actually... I might have an idea as to someone else."

Riley raises an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"I want to try my luck at the Canalave Gym first," Cynthia says. "...Byron can't be that more difficult to defeat than he was in Oreburgh. Can he?"

"Now that you've said that, I'm sure he will be," Riley half-jokes.

Cheryl smiles warmly at her and says, "You'll be fine, I'm sure."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Given that Cynthia nearly loses to one of Byron's subordinates, a man with an Empoleon who looks old enough to be her father, it's safe to say that yes, she's going to have her work cut out for her this time. But in the end, Maelstrom manages to overcome the other Empoleon by sheer virtue of almost nothing on either side being remotely effective, and it's on to the gym leader himself.

...after making a very hurried run to the local pokemon center, and informing Dawn when asked that no, she did not lose as well, she just wants to be as prepared as possible for fighting the gym leader.

(Barry's still sulking a bit in the corner in a cuddle pile with most of his pokemon, his recently acquired Munchlax in his arms. Apparently just throwing his Infernape alone at the leader went south incredibly fast when Byron's Steelix used Earthquake, and his Heracross wasn't able to go toe-to-toe with his Bastiodon. If he loses again, Cynthia might suggest sending out his Heracross first, but... well. She doesn't think she would have appreciated the advice herself, so. Maybe not.)

Byron himself doesn't look all that different from the last time Cynthia's seen him. Distortion, he doesn't look all that different even from the last time she's battled him, just a little older and a little more tired.

She's... pretty sure that's a description that could be applied to her, too. It's for the best that when he looks at her, it's without a hint of recognition in his eyes. He asks, "How many badges?"

"This will be my sixth," Cynthia states confidently. 

"Alright. Three on three, I'm sure you know how it goes by now if you've gotten five badges," Byron says. He yawns, unlatching a pokeball from his belt. "Substitutions are allowed, but I wouldn't recommend 'em. You ready?"

Cynthia nods. She thinks she'll start, this time, with Milady. The Lopunny won't be happy about so many of her foes here being resistant to cutting and slashing, but lately she's been warming up to recklessly kicking things instead.

"Then let's do this," Byron says, after a few moments more. His Magneton is first, which—works out, well enough. 

...well enough for Cynthia, to be clear. Not for Byron. His Magneton gets in a few solid hits on Milady, but the Lopunny is still down for more—if breathing pretty heavily, and that says more than Cynthia thinks her pokemon would be willing to admit on her own.

Milady even manages to get another attack in on Byron's Steelix, before the massive metallic snake calls up a sandstorm within the gym's walls. And that's where things start to go... less well. Much, much less well, because Milady misses her next Jump Kick and knocks herself out, and Corundum takes a hard hit from a Flash Cannon before retaliating in kind with an Earthquake.

Corundum... doesn't last very long, against Byron's Bastiodon. Which is a shame, because Bastiodon has as crippling of a weakness to ground-types as her own Garchomp does to ice-types, and ground moves are much more common.

(It makes sense that Byron would have a strategy of some kind to deal with that.)

(It's still annoying.)

"You did well," Cynthia says to Corundum's pokeball. She doesn't hesitate before sending out Maelstrom—a steel-type himself—and making a choice. "Maelstrom, let's set up a Whirlpool to start.

Byron raises an eyebrow, as his Bastiodon attempts with little success to bat away the aquatic vortex it's now trapped in. "Not a bad idea... but you're going to be here for a while if you think that'll win you this badge. Bastion, Iron Defense."

Cynthia can't help but grimace at that. But—the Bastiodon might be weakened enough already for her plan to still work. "Brine!"

Iron Defense will hardly help against that, after all. And it does a lot of damage, definitely.

But the Bastiodon gets up from where it's been knocked, slowly yet deliberately, and Cynthia realizes—

She may have made a mistake. Still, she orders, "Bide, if you can—"

"Metal Burst," Byron says, and the Bastiodon retaliates. Maelstrom's thrown to the floor, unmoving for a moment before he starts to push himself up. "Now finish it off with a Stone Edge!"

Rocks jut up from the ground as her Empoleon lets out a desperate cry and falls once more. He doesn't get up this time. And... it bothers Cynthia, losing at all, but—not as much as it would have.

She's not defined by victory. And she can try again, here. And as far as the Sinnohan gym leaders go, Byron is one of the ones she gets more complaints about being too strong, so... no shame in losing to him.

"Good show," Byron says. "I expect I'll be seeing you again soon?"

Cynthia nods. And then— something —catches her eye. "Wait. I don't think—"

It's over quite yet, is what she meant to say, except she's scarcely returned her attention to the battlefield when a massive blur of black and white and blue bodily tackles Byron's Bastiodon to the ground. When the dust settles, both pokemon are unconscious.

"Okay then," Byron says. "That was... not something I saw coming. Technically, I'm not supposed to hand out badges for ties, but I think you deserve that one—"

"No, I'm—I can come back," Cynthia says with a smile. "I'll be better prepared next—"

"Poleon!" 

Somehow— impossibly —Maelstrom's pulled himself to his feet. And he's visibly shaking, but he's giving Cynthia a look that she suspects translates roughly to please shut up and take the badge.

"That is not a tie," Byron decides, recalling his Bastiodon and holding out a shiny new Mine Badge for her to take. "Congratulations, please get your Empoleon to a center right away."

"Will do," Cynthia says breathlessly. She recalls Maelstrom before taking it, and whispers to the ball, "What did I do to deserve such good pokemon?"

"Well. I can't know for sure, but my best guess is that you're a good trainer." Byron's still holding out the badge. "I mean good as in good to your pokemon. Not necessarily good at battling—though I'd say those are connected pretty closely, at this level."

"Thanks," she whispers, trying not to cry again, and takes her sixth (fourteenth) badge.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Riley agrees, when Cynthia tells him about her plan for the Riolu egg he has on hand, that it's a good idea. Or at the very least, that it's not a bad idea, which? At this point? She'll take what she can get.

There's just one small issue: Riley doesn't exactly want to entrust a Riolu to someone he hasn't talked to personally.

And Cynthia gets that, she does. The last thing anyone needs, least of all that unhatched baby, is a situation like the one she and Riley had gotten their Riolu out of. So, once at least the majority of the kids beat Byron and head up to Snowpoint for Badge #7, Cynthia will just take a quick little detour on the way there.

There's just one, slightly less small issue: none of the kids can beat Byron.

This certainly isn't for lack of trying, on their part. Barry just keeps throwing himself at the gym over and over and over again, not trying to train more or anything, which is... probably where he keeps falling short. Dawn loses once, tries again, and then disappears off to go train on Iron Island with her brother after he loses his match, too.

Cynthia's fine with waiting a week or so. But when a week becomes a month, and Team Galactic's master plan is approaching far faster than any of them are acquiring their badge, and they're all collectively too stubborn to try for somewhere else, she decides that... maybe they can handle themselves, for a bit, while she heads up to Snowpoint. 

The thing that does sway her eventual decision, far more than anything else, is the fact that Riley's egg is getting closer and closer to hatching with every day that passes. And while he wouldn't be too heartbroken if it hatched with him, he'd much rather that it hatched with its future trainer.

And so, waiting outside of her old hometown with her best friend, her girlfriend, and a Jolteon sitting on her lap, Cynthia fires off a text to a number she has memorized and passes it back over to Cheryl. 

Not five minutes later, her younger sister comes sprinting out of town, a Glaceon trotting along not far behind her. She stops to catch her breath once she catches sight of Cynthia, breathing heavily, and then says, "Hey Cyn! ...Cheryl... uhhh, Lucario twink..."

Riley proceeds to choke on his own spit, as Cheryl pats his back sympathetically . Once he's sufficiently recovered to get out any semblance of coherent communication, he blurts out, "What did you just call me?"

"...Lucario twink?" Celia says innocently. "I forgot your name."

"Riley! It's— Riley, gods..."

"I love that you remembered my name and not his," Cheryl says with a laugh. "Haven't seen you in a long time, Celia, how are you doing?"

"Good?" Celia shrugs. "How, uh."

"Celi," Cynthia says, "how would you like an egg?"

"You already tried to give me one of your Togepi eggs from your Togekiss getting frisky, no—"

"It's not a Togepi."

Celia blinks. "Oh." She considers this. "What is it, then? Why are you asking me if I'd like a nice egg in this trying time?"

"Oh my gods," Cheryl says.

"It's—" Riley begins.

"Is it a Lucario," Celia says. "Because yes."

"It's not a Lucario," he says, before the incubator in his arms starts to shudder and shake and he very nearly drops it. 

According to Cheryl, after it's all over, the Riolu hatches in record time. The little guy also seems to latch onto Celia immediately, which is both an immense relief and completely according to plan.

"He... evolves into a Lucario?" Celia asks at last, after she's settled on a name and decided that yes, she will be keeping this little aura puppy and at this point Riley would have to physically fight her to take her new pokemon away.

Riley nods. "Mhm."

"Cool. I'm going to call him Saph."

"Cool," Riley echoes. "Cute little guy, huh?"

"Yep."

"So do you think... maybe... you could not keep calling me that?"

"What, Lucario twink?"

"Yes," Riley says desperately. "Please. I am literally begging you. I didn't teach myself how to do something literally the entire world had forgotten about from scratch for this."

Celia raises an eyebrow. "What, the long-forgotten art of dressing up as a pokemon? That's called cosplay and you have literally shown up looking like a Lucario every. Single. Time. I've met you."

Riley buries his face in his hands and makes a distressed noise. "What did I do to deserve this??"

Funny as this is, Cynthia should probably stop laughing and actually have some mercy on her friend. She pats him on the shoulder and says, "He's an aura guardian, I'm pretty sure dressing up like a Lucario is part of the uniform."

"An... aura guardian?" Celia asks. "So like—a Jedi or something?"

Cheryl fails to suppress her laugher as Riley groans and says, "No, not like a Jedi, they said they were going to make something inspired by the actual aura guardians of days gone past and would not listen to me at all. Never mind that I have actual firsthand experience, nooo, they were like oh no! What a shame it is that there's no one we can talk to for research! Guess we'd better make things up!" He throws his hands up in the air and exclaims, "I am literally right here!"

"...oh my gods you're serious," Celia says, raising an eyebrow. "Alright. I won't call you Lucario twink."

"Yes! Thank you!"

Except, Cynthia doesn't think Riley is entirely out of the woods yet. There's a mischievous gleam in her sister's eyes, a look she recognizes because she knows she's looked like that herself on more than one occasion. A quick glance at Cheryl proves she recognizes it too.

"So you're going to call him by his actual name now, right?" Cheryl says, just a little too innocently.

"I never said that," Celia says. She holds up her new Riolu like he's the baby in the Litleo King and proclaims, "Thank you for the baby... aura twink. Gotta go! Bye Cyn, love you!"

"No," Riley says desperately, but Celia is already sprinting back towards town, audibly cackling as she goes. "I— why."

"Teenagers," Cheryl says with a grin and a shrug. "Be glad she's the only one calling you that."

"Is... that a threat?"

"Not unless you make it necessary!"

Cynthia snorts, though her gaze follows her sister as she heads back into town. She watches her pull open the front door, and hold up her new pokemon to whoever's standing inside, bouncing on her feet with excitement.

She's struck, suddenly, with the realization that she misses home. More than she thought she did. A lot more than she thought she did.

(There's less than a month to go, now. And then... whatever comes after the end of the world.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

At this point, Cynthia shouldn't be surprised by much of anything. So much has happened since being thrown back in time. She's reconnected with friends and family that she'd been... neglecting, to say the least. She apparently has a girlfriend now, though the extent of what that consists of currently is little more than holding hands and walking close. She is well on her way to getting her fifteenth badge, and she thinks she'll have time to take on Volkner outside of the league for once before... well...

Before she has to stop her former best friend and rival from remaking the very fabric of reality. Before she has to succeed where she failed last time, where she has to bring down two gods at once.

She's fought gods before, but she wasn't alone before.

But this time. This time, she isn't going to be alone, either, quite unlike the first time she chased Cyrus to the Spear Pillar. She has her pokemon, old and new—she thinks Aster at least was still in fighting shape, if she can get there before anything else goes wrong. She has her friends, new ones like Lucas and Dawn and Barry, and much older ones like Riley and Cheryl.

"Hey," Cheryl says quietly, nudging her, and her gaze snaps up from the snowy route ahead. "Cynthia? It's going to be okay, I promise."

"It will be," Cynthia agrees, and it's a testament to her trust in the people who care about her that she believes her own words. "I'm still worried, though."

"Of course. I'd be concerned if you weren't, at least a little." She gives Cynthia's hand a squeeze and smiles at her, and the route ahead might be unseasonably cold even for northern Sinnoh but her heart feels like it's summertime in Hoenn. "I'm worried too. But I know you can do this, and—I'll be with you to the end, no matter what."

"Thanks. It—means a lot." Cynthia smiles back. "But I refuse to let it be the end of anything. Except traveling around like this, it can be the end of that. But not the world, and... not anything else." She pauses. "Actually, no, it can be the end of Team Galactic... okay, maybe I was a little too hasty there, but—"

Cheryl snorts. "I know what you mean, I promise. We can't be that much farther from Snowpoint, right?"

Cynthia smacks her poketch, but the display refuses to cooperate against the bright snow. She sighs and glances backwards and—there's Riley, trailing further behind them than before. "Riley?"

"Hold on," he calls back. "There's something in the snow, I can't get a good feel..." He starts towards a snowbank, eyes narrowing.

"...not a wild pokemon?" Cheryl asks, dropping Cynthia's hand to join him. Cynthia follows.

"No, I think..." He tosses out a pokeball. "Hi, Anubis! Sorry about the cold, you mind throwing a Blaze Kick at that snowbank there? Carefully, please."

His Lucario gives him a look, shivering, but the shivering stops when Anubis plants a fiery foot into the snow, burning some of it away—

There's a muffled shout from within the snowdrift, and then a head full of pink hair pokes out from it with an exclamation of, "Watch where you're—oh, good, it's morning."

"...Maylene?" Riley asks dubiously.

"Maylene," Cynthia confirms, offering her a hand to get out of the snowdrift. The girl takes it, brushing herself off, and oh gods why is she still barefoot it is literally snowing.

"Why don't you—do you not own a coat?? Or shoes??" Cheryl blurts, looking increasingly concerned.

"Shoes are overrated," Maylene says dismissively. "And of course I own a coat, I live in Sinnoh."

"Then—why aren't you wearing it? Where is it?"

Maylene points at Cynthia, who is suddenly intimately aware of the very, very pink coat she's currently wearing. "I don't need it."

"Cynthia. You're telling me that's where... Why are you wearing Maylene's coat."

"She offered, it made a rather poor disguise marginally better, and it isn't as if she would have worn it herself?" Cynthia says with a mareepish shrug. 

Cheryl smacks a hand against her face, mumbling, "Oh, Shaymin, why is this the fool I'm in love with?"

"Oh shit?" Maylene comments, raising an eyebrow. "Hey, Cynthia, you're not straight, right?"

"I'm insulted by the assumption that I would even consider it," Cynthia says.

"Great! Cool. Then you should, y'know, do something about that?" Maylene pauses, surveying the trio. "...what's that look for?"

It's Riley who eventually has mercy on her and says, "Maylene, they've been dating for—at least a month?"

"Oh! Really?" She snorts. "Thank the fucking gods."

Cynthia gives her a look. "If you mean to say that the entire league somehow knew about my love life, or utter lack thereof—"

"Huh? Oh, no, it was just pretty obvious back in Veilstone back when... well." Maylene grimaces, shuffling a bit nervously. "Before you became champion. Yeah. That."

"You really were the last to know," Riley says, far too cheerfully, and Cynthia supposes this is a sort of revenge for letting her little sister get away with nicknaming him aura twink. "Are you... seriously not cold, though?"

"Never said that! Just that I could handle it." Maylene beams. "On that note, though, I didn't realize it was morning yet—"

"It's three in the afternoon," Cheryl informs her.

"Shit, fuck, I'm late. Can we get moving before Candice sends out a search party?"

"...sure. Are you positive you don't need a jacket?"

"Yup!"

Cynthia sighs, turns to Riley, and asks, "Is this how you feel when I'm making poor decisions?"

"You haven't made enough around me recently for me to have an opinion," Riley replies. "And less recently, I was also making... questionable decisions myself."

"Yes, because you both had the collective impulse control of a Combee where honey is involved," Cheryl mutters. "To answer your question: yes. Yes, it is."

"Cheryl. I am so sorry," Cynthia says.

"Wow, I'm right here," Maylene comments, thoroughly unbothered. "Also, get a room, you two."

"Maylene—"

"If it helps," Cheryl says, "you're a bit less of a disaster than you used to be."

Cynthia snorts. "That helps, a little. I'll take it."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

After slipping and sliding on ice and snow inside the Snowpoint Gym for nearly an hour just to get to Candice, Cynthia can safely say that Candice's gym puzzle is so much more annoying than her predecessor's. And that maybe, once she's acting in the role of Champion again, she might just ask Candice to tone it down a little because that was a complete nightmare to get through.

Or, alternatively, after the battle, because she did agree with Maylene months ago that she'd tell Candice what was up if she didn't figure it out on her own. 

And while Candice is quite a good battler, and a dearly beloved gym leader, she... is not exactly renowned for her observational skills.

Case in point: when Cynthia doubles over breathing heavily, trying desperately to catch her breath after all that, Candice very emphatically does not read the room. Instead, she asks, "So! You're ready for battle?"

"I," Cynthia gasps out, "am not, I will be in... a minute..."

"Oh." Candice blinks. "Sorry. Take your time!"

In other news, she and Maylene really are perfect for each other. Partially because of an utter lack of observational skills at times, and partially because they both utterly refuse to wear actual weather-appropriate clothes in the snow. Candice at least has a jacket, but it's tied around her waist instead of actually being used, because of course it is.

Cynthia catches her breath, reminds herself of what her plan for this gym is—ice has a lot of weaknesses, weaknesses she's become intimately familiar with out of little things like 'necessity' and 'her ace pokemon's crippling weakness'—and pulls out Maelstrom's pokeball once again. "I think I'm ready."

"Gotcha. Seven badges?"

"After this one. Six currently."

Candice lights up. "I get to use four pokemon, excellent! And so do you, of course."

"Of course," Cynthia echoes. 

There is not a hint of recognition in this girl's eyes. Honestly, if Cynthia didn't know firsthand how good a battler Candice is, she'd think there was nothing but jazzy elevator music behind this girl's eyes. However, given that Candice has challenged the league a few times and made it to Cynthia every one of those times...

Well. If she does recognize Cynthia, she isn't saying anything about it.

"Great, then..." Candice beams. "The thing about pokemon training, the thing about everything really? It's all about focus. You think you're more focused than me?"

"...depends on what we're focusing on," Cynthia says. "Personally, I'd like to get to the battle—I have a bit of a deadline here, and I want to know if I'm ready to take you on now or if I need to do more training first."

"Sounds great to me!"

Cynthia goes for Maelstrom, because most of Candice's attacks will do almost as little as most steel-type attacks did. And Candice sends out—

—a Sneasel.

Ah.  

For a second, it's not Candice standing opposite her, leaning forward like she's about to leap into the fray in place of her pokemon. For a second, it's a slightly built kid with spiky blue hair and a yellow vest, arms crossed and shivering a little from the wind or anticipation or both.

She blinks the memory away and says, "Maelstrom, Flash Cannon."

Candice's Sneasel goes down in a single powerful hit— this particular weakness is why she's been considering teaching her Garchomp Iron Head—and Candice just says, "Oh. That's. Um. That's fine! Milo, come on out, and use Hail!"

"...I had enough of that outside," Cynthia comments dryly, shielding her eyes. "But that's just fine by me. Maelstrom, you can take it, throw out another Flash Cannon!"

The Piloswine is (somewhat surprisingly) faster than her Empoleon. But it is absolutely not immune to a strong steel attack, or even resistant to it, and honestly, if Cynthia had been her, she would have taken the opportunity to use a ground move. Like Earthquake.

Candice missed her chance, though. She narrows her eyes, and sends out— "Maiden, go!" —a Froslass.

This is going to be even more annoying, and her suspicions about that particular Froslass's ability are confirmed when Flash Cannon misses. And the Froslass uses—

"Double Team!" Candice calls, and Cynthia wonders if this is payback for something, because Flash Cannon misses. Again. "And now Blizzard!"

Blizzard does—very, very little to Maelstrom, considering how powerful a move it is. But in a hailstorm, it literally can't miss. Which is a problem. Because Cynthia knows from experience that one really strong attack can take out a Froslass easily, the issue is hitting the pokemon to begin with.

The higher levels of gym battling do allow substitutions, so long as it's not excessive. And, Cynthia thinks, recalling her pokemon because she can't land a single hit would qualify as 'not excessive,' maybe even 'necessary.'

"A... Jolteon?" Candice asks, brow furrowing. "Why would you—"

"Shock Wave," Cynthia snarls with perhaps more bite to her words than is necessary.

"Oh, crap. Blizzard, quick!"

But the hailstorm falters before the Froslass's attack can strike, and it misses entirely. Helios's, on the other hand, doesn't. The Froslass goes down to a stronger hit than normal. Candice recalls her pokemon. Cynthia takes a moment to appreciate the fact that Candice probably only had one pokemon on this team who knew Hail.

And then she is immediately proven wrong by the Abomasnow leaping out of his pokeball and smacking her poor Jolteon upside the head with a Wood Hammer.

Helios stumbles, but doesn't fall, but—yeah, there's very little he can do against a grass-type. She recalls him, sends Maelstrom back out.

"Oh no," Candice blurts. She throws a hand to the side and shouts, "Hang in there, Nicky. Show them what we can do! Focus Blast!"

"Flash Cannon," Cynthia says. 

Maelstrom fires off a beam of energy as the Abomasnow tightens its focus, then meets the beam with a full-power fighting move. Both pokemon stumble backwards, Maelstrom staggering a bit more, but—he lets out a determined cry of "EMPOL!" and fires another Flash Cannon just as Cynthia shouts, "Again!"

The Abomasnow doesn't get up this time. Cynthia lets out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She glances at Maelstrom and says, after a moment, "Wow. You've really been going strong in our last few gym battles, huh?"

"Emmmm," the Empoleon says proudly, dusting himself off.

"Nicely done," Candice says. "You said your name was—Diana, right? Here you go, one Icicle Badge for a challenger that did really well, all things considered."

"Thanks." Cynthia takes the badge in hand. "Candice, there's—something you need to know."

Candice blinks at her. And then her eyes go wide and she points at Cynthia and she shrieks, "I fucking knew it!"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"Oh," Cynthia says, because she certainly wasn't expecting that reaction. "What... gave it away?"

"That, just now, for me knowing a hundred percent," Candice says cheerfully. "But I've had my suspicions for... wow, a long fucking time! You have no idea how satisfying it is to be proven right."

"That's nice. If you knew, or, thought you knew, why not say anything sooner?"

Candice shrugs, fiddling idly with the pokeball that holds her Abomasnow within. "Well, I figured you had to have your reasons for not saying anything. I wasn't about to out you, y'know? That would just be rude."

"...thanks. I really did think my disguise was at least halfway decent, though—"

"Oh, I'd call it better than that! I just happen to have a very good memory for faces." Candice beams. "Not so much other things. But I know yours too well for a little thing like glasses to mess me up!"

"I did not know that."

The girl nods enthusiastically, tucking her pokeball away. "Little known fact about me, it's okay that you didn't know it, but hey! Now you do. Well, I've got a pokemon center to head to, you have any plans?"

"Probably much the same," Cynthia admits. "Mind if I go with you?"

Candice snorts. "Not at all. This way, or you'll be slipping and sliding all over the place for a while." 

She pushes off onto the ice in one very deliberate spot, and after watching her make it to the front of the gym without incident, Cynthia carefully— carefully —follows her. Once she's caught up, she asks, "Have you... perhaps... considered making your gym puzzle a little less..."

"A little less?" Candice prompts.

Cynthia waves a hand out at the ice, trying to figure out the right word. Eventually she settles for, "...frustrating?"

"Aw, that's part of the fun, though!" She pushes open the door, holding it for Cynthia, and says, "I'll consider it, though."

That's probably the best she can hope for right now. And it isn't as if she didn't solve it herself eventually. Still, there's something about this situation that's still bugging her, and it finally occurs to her what it is just steps away from the pokemon center.

"Candice," Cynthia says evenly.

"Mm?" She turns around, seemingly unbothered by the weather that's cold even by Sinnoh standards. "What is it?"

"You're taking this... remarkably well, you know."

"Oh! Thanks." Candice grins. "I try to keep an open mind, just, uh... let me know if I accidentally say anything offensive?"

Cynthia blinks. "Uh—"

"Like—you're not going by Cynthia, are you?"

"Nooo. No, no, no, nope." She shakes her head. "If we're around others, it's Diana."

"Cool cool. She/her pronouns? Or, something else?"

"...still she/her pronouns, yes...? Like it's... always been?"

"Great." Candice holds out a hand. "Nice to meet you, then, Diana!"

Cynthia stares at the outstretched hand for a bit before dubiously shaking it. "Thanks... nice to meet you too, Candice."

"Mhm. I'm probably gonna be pretty busy tonight, girlfriend's in town and all, but. Listen." Candice stares intently into Cynthia's eyes. "I gotta know—and you don't have to tell me right now, but, please? At some point before you leave yourself?"

"Certainly. You want to know how I—"

"What's it like being the champion's robot body double," Candice blurts.

"I—" Cynthia narrowly avoids choking to death on her own spit. She opens her mouth. Shuts it again. Stares. "I'm sorry, what are you talking about?"

"It's okay, you don't have to worry about me. Your secret is safe with me," Candice proclaims proudly. "Also, most people aren't exactly going to be out in this, so you don't have to worry about anyone overhearing—"

"Most people aren't out in this because it's cold, Candice, what was that about—"

"Woah! I didn't know robots could feel temperatures." Candice clasps her hands behind her back. "That's really cool! Pun intended."

"I'm not a—I don't have a robot body double?"

"Course not! But she does. You don't have to hide—"

"I think," Cynthia says, "that we may have been talking about two different things this whole time."

Candice blinks. "...really? Huh. Well, if you aren't Cynthia's robot body double—"

"I assure you I'm not, why would I even have a body double, never mind a robot one?"

"In case of emergency?" Candice shrugs. "But—seriously, why would the actual champion be bothering to get more gym badges in disguise?"

"Because I'm undercover, and I got thrown back in time, and—" Cynthia pinches the bridge of her nose. She hasn't gotten a full on migraine in years but this might just change that. "...why don't we just go talk to Maylene, because she knows it's actually me, and I'm getting very tired of explaining my situation. ...also, I thought she would have told you..."

Stepping into the pokemon center, Candice offers unhelpfully, "She might have, and I just forgot—hey! Mayyyy!"

Maylene waves them over, one hand cupped around a mug of what Cynthia hopes is something like hot chocolate and not coffee because dear gods, Maylene does not need to be any more energetic than she already is. Riley's lying down on one of the pokecenter couches, his hat left lying on top of his face, and Cheryl appears to be working on something on her poketch.

"Hey!" Maylene says cheerfully. "How did it go?"

"Good." Cynthia glances at Candice for confirmation, and then repeats, more convincingly, "Good. Though there was just one issue—"

"Maylene!" Candice shouts, practically throwing herself bodily halfway onto the couch Maylene's sitting on and halfway onto her girlfriend. She lowers her voice then—not that it matters, because somehow Cynthia gets the feeling that the staff here are very, very used to their local leader's antics—and says, solemnly, "I need to ask you a very, very important question."

Maylene blinks. "Uh—"

"Got the badge?" Cheryl comments, as Cynthia takes a seat beside her, suddenly— increasingly aware of how tired she is.

Cynthia hums a yes, and lets her head fall onto Cheryl's shoulder, shutting her eyes. Maybe if she's lucky, she'll be able to get to sleep fast enough to not hear—

"Maylene, love of my life, light of my soul, comrade in shenanigans," Candice says. "Are you sure that this Cynthia isn't really her robot body double?"

Letting out a confused-sounding cackle, Maylene says, "What??"

"No, I'm not," Cynthia says wearily. "You two explain. Please. I'm tired. If she has a question you don't have the answer to, wake me up, but..." She shakes her head, and trails off, and the next thing she knows it's the next morning and she's a little sore and Cheryl's still there, snoring lightly on the pokecenter couch beside her.

Maybe everything will turn out okay, in the end.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Cynthia makes a quick stop at Lake Acuity, alone, before leaving Snowpoint City for Sunyshore. The lake is frozen over, to the point where she can see clearly to the other bank—but Cynthia, personally, isn't about to tempt fate more than she already has by stepping out onto the ice.

Instead, she calls out, "Hello, Uxie."

There isn't a response, verbal or otherwise. She didn't particularly expect one. She shrugs to herself, unbothered, and crouches by the lake shore, and she says out loud, "It has been... quite a while, now that I think about it. I hope you have been well. I... have not, but that was hardly your fault."

(Though a small, blasphemous part of her wonders—if Uxie had appeared to Cyrus instead of her, if any of the lake trio had appeared to them instead of her, so long ago—would they have made the same decisions? Would they have still decided to disappear? Would the chain of events that led to this still have come to pass?)

She shakes her head and sits, hugging herself for a few moments before she continues, "You... are the being of knowledge. So I suspect you have at least some idea of what is to come, and perhaps, my eventual role in it. Uxie, I ask for nothing, save that you forgive me for not knowing better."

There are— so many things she regrets. Most of them are tied in some way to Cyrus, but not all, and she doesn't specify which she means. Perhaps it is this ambiguity that causes a flash of red to appear in front of her. She looks up, and her eyes meet a god's.

...well, not exactly. Uxie squints out at the world through nothing more than careful slits, and given the many cautionary tales that exist concerning faer eyes causing amnesia, Cynthia is grateful for that small mercy. 

"Uxie," she greets again, quieter this time. "I am sorry for what will come to pass. But I vow that I will do everything in my power to keep you and your siblings from further harm."

The red gem set in Uxie's forehead, and the ones set into faer tails, glow slightly. A voice projects itself into her head, one she knows and yet cannot know: "apologizE noT foR thE actionS yoU diD noT takE, mortaL."

Cynthia blinks. "I—alright. Thank you, then...?"

The gems glow brighter. "dO noT thanK mE. dO noT faiL."

In a flash of red, fae vanishes again. Cynthia is left staring out at the deserted lake, as the cold wind blows and reminds her of another of the main reasons people tend to challenge Volkner's gym directly after Candice's: Sunyshore is the warmest place in Sinnoh, barring Battalion Island, and it is certainly the warmest place with a gym to challenge.

"I won't," Cynthia promises, getting up—and if the being of knowledge knows what she means by her words, that makes exactly one of them. She shakes her head to herself and goes to find her friends, because she has less than a week now to fight Volkner and of all the gyms she's dubiously in charge of, his is the one she's received the most complaints about.

His gym is also, as it turns out, completely inaccessible.

"What do you mean, there's a power outage?" Cheryl demands. "That's an issue but that is literally no reason to keep people from going into the city?"

The man shrugs. "Leader's orders. It's not safe."

"I—okay listen. I may not know very much about how engineering works but that doesn't sound right. Does it?" She raises an eyebrow and looks at Riley, who shrugs helplessly, and Cynthia.

"No, it doesn't," Cynthia says, who also knows very little about how engineering works but she knows enough. "What's the real issue here?"

"I—" He looks at her and shakes his head. "I'm telling you, there's a blackout, it's not safe, and if you've got an issue with that, you can take it up with Volkner once he's got the power back on."

"And... when is that going to be?" Riley asks. "Tomorrow...?"

The man snorts. "Gods, I fucking hope so. More likely it'll be a week or so."

"A week?" Cynthia blurts. "We don't have a week!"

"...huh?"

Cheryl gives her a concerned look and says, "It's that close?"

"Yeah," Cynthia says. "Yeah, it is. We can't wait a week."

"...sorry, but I can't help you," the man says with a helpless shrug. "Just—please come back?"

Riley narrows his eyes. "Cher, Cy— Diana, can we talk for a second?" 

"Sure," Cheryl says, pulling Cynthia by the arm off to the side. "So. Riley. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I think so," Riley says. "So—"

"What are you two thinking?" Cynthia asks.

"I'm thinking we can definitely take him in a fight while you go ahead."

Cheryl nods. "Honestly, I feel like Riley alone could handle him."

"Absolutely. That we was referring to myself and my Lucario, to be clear."

"Awesome. So, you handle him and any pokemon he throws out, Cynthia and I run for Sunyshore, and—"

"Hold on," Cynthia says sharply. "Why are you making me be the voice of reason here?"

"What do you mean?" Cheryl says innocently. "If anyone isn't being the voice of reason, it's that gym leader."

"...we could fly in. In theory. In practice I'm not entirely sure if Lunare could carry more than one person, but—"

"No, I've got my Vespiquen on hand, she's flown me places before and she'd definitely be willing to try for more."

"I don't exactly have a flyer," Riley says with a shrug. "But that's missing the point. I was—"

"Making a joke?"

"...no, actually, but this is the kind of thing Cynthia's literally supposed to deal with, isn't it?"

"It is," Cynthia says with a sigh. "It absolutely is but I remember nothing about this and... honestly, we're a little short on time."

"Less than a week, huh," Cheryl says.

Glancing up at Mt. Coronet, visible as it always is to the northwest, Cynthia nods. "We're already cutting things far closer than we should be. I can always just pull out the disguise again after it's all over, I just... thought I could be in and out, maybe."

"Don't want to leave the kids alone for too long?" Riley comments. "Understandable, honestly, they seem like good kids but—"

"Let's keep them from getting too fucked up," Cheryl says.

"Not how I would have phrased it but..." Cynthia sighs, and turns back towards the man. She raises her voice and says, "I will be back."

"Great," he says. "You have fun with that. You've got a problem, take it up with Volkner after the power's back on."

"I will," Cynthia says with a smile. He has no way of knowing how much of a threat it is. "Let's get going, shall we?"

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

After over a month of throwing himself at the gym over and over to no avail at every opportunity he'd had, Barry disappears to Iron Island for three days, comes back, and somehow manages to beat Byron and get his badge on his first try since then. He's more put out about this than he should be, considering that he did, eventually, come out on top.

Lucas, who had spent most of that time after his first loss preparing, looks at Barry beating Byron, walks in, and powers through with his own Empoleon and his Gabite, who must be close to evolving a second time by now into a pokemon Cynthia knows better than any other.

And Dawn, well... she tries again on the morning Cynthia makes it back to Canalave. Cynthia's waiting for what she hopes will be good news outside the gym when Lucas shuffles up, looking nervous, and says, "Um, Diana?"

"Mm?" Barry's right behind him. "What's going on?"

"Professor's here, he wants to talk to you about something," Barry supplies. "...also Dawn, once she kicks that metalhead's ass!"

"Metalhead?" Cynthia repeats, eyebrows raising. "Do you mean Byron? Is that really the best insult you can come up with?"

"...no, but I can fix that!"

Lucas sighs. "Barry. Barry. I told you that you just needed to take some time and actually prepare for the gym, instead of just trying to brute-force it like you always do."

"You told Dawn that too," Barry protests.

"Yes? Because while you two battle quite differently, your approach to gyms is to always just yeet yourselves headlong at them?" He looks at Cynthia and says, "Barry, you want to wait for Dawn or go with Diana?"

Barry snorts. "Dawn had better not be that long, I'll grab her on her way out."

"Great! Let's go, then."

He walks off. Cynthia, who had still been processing hearing the word yeet outside of the context of the internet and in a casual conversation, takes a few seconds to recover and follow him.

"So," Lucas remarks as they head north towards the library. "You seem kinda nervous today."

"Massive understatement," Cynthia replies. All she can do is wait for the ground to start shaking, and figure out something to do to help that won't ruin everything when she's this close.

She doesn't remember what time it had been when Team Galactic attacked the lakes, except that it was towards the middle of the day. And it's late morning now. So any time now. Any time now, it's going to happen again, and the only thing she can do is try to act as damage control because she failed to stop it the first time.

"It's... going to happen soon, isn't it," Lucas says in a low, wary tone, glancing around first to make sure no one's within earshot. "The thing Team Galactic is going to do that ends up with you, um..."

"Becoming an unwilling time traveler?" Cynthia says dryly. 

"Y-yeah. That."

She nods. "It's going to happen today."

"What," Lucas squeaks.

"Or possibly tomorrow? It was definitely close to midnight."

"That's not encouraging, what do you mean, today?"

"I mean... time's almost up." Cynthia takes a deep breath and, looking up at the mountain looming to the east, she lets it out. "Anything could happen after I'm gone. I won't lie, I'm terrified, but—"

"No, no, I meant..." Lucas gulps. "Is that why the professor's in town?"

Cynthia blinks. Considers this. "...quite possibly? I haven't been keeping him as updated as I should have been, now that I think about it. But he does know, and he... must have been paying attention to what I told him about when it would happen too."

"Huh. Cool." Lucas pulls open the door and steps inside, holding it until Cynthia can support it herself. "He told us to meet him on the third floor, since it's usually deserted—"

"Surprised he didn't go for the fourth floor," Cynthia comments, making for the stairs.

"The what."

She waves a hand dismissively. "It's the archival level, it's not open to the public, and sometimes I think I'm the only one who bothers with it besides the library staff. Either Rowan doesn't know about it or he thinks I don't know about it. Come on."

Professor Rowan's waiting at one of the large tables on the third floor, all of the chairs from the other table pulled up to it. He isn't alone. Riley's sitting backwards in one wooden chair, chin resting against the back, and Cheryl glances up from a book she'd been reading with a surprised oh!

"Hi, Cynth," Riley greets with a wave. "Didn't think you'd get here so..." His gaze flicks to Lucas. "...fast... oh no, wait, are you—"

Lucas blinks with some confusion. "Am I...?"

"Yes, he knows," Cynthia says, and Riley visibly relaxes. "He's the only one of the kids who knows my real name. Or that the name I'm giving them isn't it. Though, that changes..."

"Soon," Professor Rowan says. "Today, in fact, if memory serves?"

She takes a deep breath. Lets it out. Reminds herself that it would be very rude to let out the guttural scream she wants to in a library.

"Yes," she allows. "Tomorrow, it's... back to being me."

(She is going to cuddle all of her pokemon so hard.)

"But, um, Team Galactic," Lucas says nervously. He's looking at an empty chair like it's going to grow teeth and bite him.

"Take a seat, Lucas, please," Rowan says dismissively. "But yes. Team Galactic. Cynthia?"

Cynthia, who has since taken a seat herself and briefly allowed her thoughts to wander off to everywhere but here, glances up. "Yes?"

"If memory serves, we cannot do anything that will directly change what you remember, correct?"

"...yes?"

Rowan nods, determined. "Then you had better tell us all what you do remember, so that we know what we can do. You are not alone in this, Cynthia. Sinnoh is our home too. Remember that."

She blinks hard, and nods.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Cynthia starts, a bit tentatively, by telling them about being across the region from here when the ground started to shake. She'd assumed it must have been someone's pokemon nearby using Earthquake, at first. Or at least, she'd tried to assume that, tried to ignore the sinking feeling in her gut that something was very wrong.

Team Galactic had been long gone, by the time she figured out that it had been at Lake Valor. Nothing was there except for an island in the center of the lake that wasn't there yesterday, and a distinct feeling of apathy that got stronger the closer she got to the island. Later reports claimed that Team Galactic had been there—had been at all three of Sinnoh's lakes, and something very bad had happened to the trio of mythical guardians living at each one.

"I know that they'll make for the Spear Pillar, eventually," Cynthia concludes. "We can't stop them from getting there, only from doing anything after the other me is gone. And I don't know what they did to the lake guardians, just that they showed up to help when I got there the first time."

"So if Team Galactic full on kidnapped some gods," Riley says, still sounding a little like he can't believe the words coming out of his mouth, "but they were clearly not under Galactic's control when you encountered them..."

"Then we've got to save them," Cheryl decides. "Which means figuring out where Team Galactic took them—"

"Probably their building in Veilstone?" Lucas offers. "We didn't get very far into it when they stole my pokedex..." He trails off, suddenly realizing that the professor is here.

"When they did what," Rowan asks sharply.

"I-it was fine! I dropped it, they stole it but I got it back eventually with help from Dawn and Cynthia—"

"Lucas." Rowan leans forward in his seat. "A pokedex can be replaced. You cannot. Do you understand me?"

Blinking hard, Lucas nods without another word.

"I know it was Lake Valor that was bombed," Cynthia says after a moment. "But we'd have no way of knowing that. I'm not sure it even mattered to Galactic which lake it was, just that one of them was."

Cheryl raises an eyebrow. "Some connection between the lake guardians, or...?"

"They're said to have all hatched from the same egg, long ago, and to be connected telepathically with one another across any distance as a consequence of this. So disturbing one would draw the attention—not to mention the ire —of the others." Cynthia considers this, frowning, and then adds, "Though it wouldn't be like them to rely on something unproven. I'm sure they had a backup plan if disturbing one to capture three didn't work."

"Ah." Cheryl sighs, and says, "Then—should we try to make it to all three lakes?"

"They aren't exactly close to each other."

"No," Rowan allows. "But even leaving out our other young assistants, we have more than enough people to ensure someone is at each of the lakes."

"And then what?" Cynthia says. "We can't stop them from taking the lake guardians."

"But we can stop them from hurting anyone else," Riley says, determination in his eyes. "Cynth. You said Valor was the one bombed?"

"Yes—"

"I'll go."

"Verity is... quite close to my laboratory," Rowan says thoughtfully. He glances over at Lucas. "I'm hardly a battler, these days, but my old Staraptor can be quite intimidating when she wants to be. I'd feel a bit better with someone else, though—"

"I can take Verity," Cheryl says thoughtfully. She looks at Cynthia. "Are you alright with Acuity?"

She was afraid of that. But she nods nonetheless. "We were just there, it shouldn't be too hard to get back. Lucas? Do you have a preference?"

"...well," Lucas says uneasily, "I actually know where Verity is, so..."

"So, Dawn and Barry get to choose between Acuity and Valor." Personally, Cynthia's kind of glad she doesn't have to go to Valor, because the last thing she needs is to run into her past self now. She'd be fine with going with either of them—Dawn's the better battler, but not by much, and what Barry lacks in experience he makes up for in sheer determination.

"Yep." He glances down at his poketch. "Oh, good! Dawn got her badge, they're on their way now."

"Nice! Pass on congratulations for me?"

"Will do," Lucas says, already typing.

"There's... one thing that's bugging me a little," Cheryl says, nervously raising a hand. "They don't know about Cynthia's situation. So wouldn't it be kind of weird for us to know ahead of time what's going to happen?"

Lucas pauses, finger hovering over the send button. "Shit."

"I'm sure I can think of some other reason to have called them all here in the meantime," Rowan says easily. "Assuming we don't have... too long to wait. Cynthia?"

"It was definitely close to midday." Cynthia shrugs. "Beyond that, I'm afraid I can't say."

"Hopefully not too long, then, I can only keep Barry from sprinting out the door for so long..." Rowan sighs. "I didn't even manage to give the boy a pokedex before he left."

Fortunately for the sake of Barry's very short attention span, he and Dawn have barely made it up the stairs before the ground, the floor beneath their feet, everything begins to shake. It's less intense here—it would be, on the other side of Sinnoh from where it happened—but less intense does not by any means not still mean intense. Someone downstairs screams. Dawn nearly faceplants into a bookshelf.

But Rowan manages to reorganize the group, to an extent—it helps that all but two members present were expecting it to happen at some point soon—and they all set off.

The professor, Lucas, and Cheryl make for Lake Verity.

Dawn and Riley set off towards Lake Valor—if by set off one were to mean that Dawn sends out her entire Togekiss, hauls Riley bodily aboard, and shoots off at a speed that would make Cynthia's own Togekiss jealous.

And that leaves Cynthia, and Barry, to race towards Lake Acuity.

"I hope we're not too late," Barry says nervously, lingering just outside the library to wait for her. His Staraptor is already out, ruffling its feathers in anticipation.

"Me too," Cynthia replies—even though she knows that no matter what they do, no matter how fast they arrive at Lake Acuity, it won't be enough to stop Team Galactic. Not yet. (And maybe not at all, but there isn’t any time left to prepare more. All she can do now is act, and fight, and hope.)

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

PKMN Trainer Barry
Rush - Zip - Rapid - Swift - Wander - Tiny

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Barry's Staraptor is a lot more used to carrying two passengers than Cynthia would have expected. Barry's response, as the pokemon races north and the air grows colder and colder around them, is to shrug and say, dismissively, "Dawn and Lucas and I try to visit home decently often? And Dawn's Togekiss only just evolved, soooo—is it just me or is it getting really cold?"

"It is not just you," Cynthia says, patting his Staraptor's wing appreciatively. (The pokemon in question—Zip, she thinks?—lets out a reassuring caw in response.) "Snowpoint City is—very, very cold. As in, snow on the ground year-round, very cold. Lake Acuity is northwest of it."

"And you've been to both of these places before," Barry continues.

"...yes? I wouldn't have felt comfortable asking you to fly us somewhere if one of us didn't know where we were going."

Barry makes a dismissive noise. "Pssh, they just make those rules for new trainers. I'm experienced now. I know what I'm doing!"

Before Cynthia can inform him that no, trainers like him are exactly why those rules are in place, Zip the Staraptor wings around the craggy face of the mountain separating Eterna City in western Sinnoh from Celestic Town in eastern Sinnoh and lets out an alarmed squawk, because it just started snowing.

"O kay this is new," Barry blurts. "Well—if it's snowing, we can just fly over the clouds—"

"No!" Cynthia snaps. "If you fly too high we won't be able to breathe up there, there's a reason that commercial jets aren't open to the air around them—"

"I've never been on a plane?? How would I know???"

Cynthia sighs, and reminds herself that this is a fourteen-year-old boy who is just trying his best, and says, "If it's snowing, we're close. Just keep heading directly north from here. If the snow gets too bad, though, we need to land."

"We can handle this," Barry shouts defiantly. "Can't we, Zip?"

Zip lets out a defiant cry of "StaaarAP!" and flies faster. If Cynthia wasn't afraid she was going to drop her glasses she'd tuck them into her bag but—too late now, too late now, too late now.

Cynthia shakes her head, and holds on tighter, and scans the snowy route below them. It's difficult to make out, but there's a couple of trainers bundled up in full ski gear having a battle below them, the lodge at about the midpoint of Route 217, and then the snowfields give way to alpine forests and beyond them...

"Take us down," Cynthia says. "That's the lake—"

She doesn't have to tell him twice. Barry pats his Staraptor and shouts, "Hold on tight!"

The massive bird lets out an answering (not to mention furious) cry and flies low over the lake, circling around an island that hadn't been there yesterday to land near the sign designating this as Lake Acuity. Further along the shoreline are a number of blue-haired grunts, and among them is Jupiter.

Cynthia's eyes narrow. She pulls out Corundum's pokeball and says, to Barry, "Be careful, and stay behind me. Okay?"

"Uh," Barry says, "no?"

"Starrrr," his pokemon growls in agreement.

Alright, keeping him fully out of harm's way may have been a little too much to hope for. Cynthia shakes her head and says, more seriously, as Corundum emerges from her ball, "I will never be able to forgive myself if you get yourself hurt or killed because of something that—" 

I should have stopped.  

"...Diana?"

Cynthia shakes her head and repeats, "Stay behind me. Please. This is more dangerous than you think it is." She doesn't wait for an answer this time, instead starting towards the group from Team Galactic.

"I'm pretty sure I got sent here to help, not to just stand around and do nothing, so—"

"At least stay close, then," Cynthia concedes, because in retrospect she wouldn't have listened to herself either. "And don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"That narrows it down really little—"

"Are you done?" Jupiter asks imperiously, arms crossed over her chest and a single eyebrow raised. The Skuntank beside her chuffs in a manner that almost seems like laughter. "I'm on a schedule here, you know."

"And I'm afraid you won't be meeting it," Cynthia replies. "We know what you're planning."

"We do?" Barry asks. Cynthia elbows him and he whispers, "Sorry. We do?"

"I do," Cynthia amends. "You're not taking the guardian of the lake anywhere."

"I'm not, am I?" Jupiter's eyebrow raises higher. "Why don't you try and stop me, then, instead of projecting your own inadequacies onto a child? Gastro, with me." And her Skuntank follows her out onto the ice—towards the hidden island.

Cynthia moves to follow her, except that the pair of grunts with Jupiter move to block her, and Cynthia snarls, "Fine. Let's do this quick. Corundum, Earthquake!"

Zip too darts into the fray beside her, lifting off the ground for a few moments to avoid the ground-type move. Barry shouts, "Aerial Ace, take that Croagunk down!"

The Croagunk goes down. The Glameow goes down to a Close Combat from Barry's Staraptor, and Cynthia dashes out onto the frozen-over lake, Corundum right behind her.

(At least, she thinks Corundum is right behind her. But Corundum steps onto the ice and it starts to crack beneath her weight, so she hastily steps back and calls out to try and get her trainer's attention.)

Cynthia catches up to Jupiter at the very edge of the island, tackling her to the solid ice below, and she says, "You're not—"

"Sku!" Jupiter's Skuntank grabs her by the scruff of her borrowed coat and hauls her bodily away from her trainer, throwing her to the side. Her head and her wrist hit the ice hard. Her vision spins. Something cracks—it’s not the ice, it’s not the ice.

"You were saying?" Jupiter asks, dusting herself off and getting to her feet. "I'd get back to the shore, if I were you—that ice isn't looking very solid."

"You—" Cynthia shakes her head and immediately regrets it. She looks down and regrets it more. The ice is—cracking, beneath her feet. And where's—

"Graaa!" Corundum calls from the shore, looking increasingly concerned.

Gods. She should have thought of that. She should have.

"Debris, we need a lift," Jupiter says calmly, sending out her Golbat. The bat latches onto her free hand and starts lifting her like Mary Poppins' umbrella, while her Skuntank leaps up into her other arm, and the Golbat starts to carry the three of them back to the shore. As she passes Cynthia, Jupiter adds, "Congratulations. You've successfully protected an empty cavern."

"What?!" Cynthia's eyes go wider. She starts to crawl, carefully, towards the cave entrance. She's not going to make it in time. She moves faster—

"We've already got the lake guardian, dipshit. You're too late."

The ice shatters with a mighty snap , and Cynthia tumbles headfirst into Lake Acuity, and the last thing she sees—hears—feels—

—is cold.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

PKMN Trainer Barry
Rush - Zip - Rapid - Swift - Wander - Tiny

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

She's still cold, when she comes to. There's a dry and scratchy blanket draped over her and her head aches and she can’t keep from shuddering. The world feels louder than usual, and for a second she can't remember—wait. Jupiter. Her Skuntank. The ice cracking. She must have...

Well, Riley will never let her live it down if he finds out about this, that's for sure, and while that's quite possibly the most ridiculous thing to think about at the moment it sure is a thing that occurs to her then. She shivers and pulls that blanket closer around her, and opens her mouth to—

“Empolll,” something says disapprovingly, wrapping its arms—wait, wings?—around her. And oh, that’s Maelstrom, isn’t it? She can practically feel the worry radiating off her pokemon in waves.

It occurs to her, quite suddenly, that she could have died there. Very easily in fact. She shudders, not just from the cold, as her Graveler waddles over to join them, a tad—guiltily?

(The ice had cracked—when? Wait. Oh.)

“Corundum, no,” Cynthia whispers, reaching out to her. “You’re fine, I shouldn’t have—in retrospect the lake was nowhere near as solid as I thought it was—“

“Gravelller,” Corundum says unhappily, patting her on the arm. Not for the first time, Cynthia finds herself wishing she’d had a fire-type.

But a short distance down the shore, with his back to her and his Infernape beside him, is Barry. He’s got his poketch wrist raised to his mouth and is talking into it, too quietly to be heard over the wind. Team Galactic is gone. The wind feels colder, with that realization.

But at least—

At least it’s not snowing anymore. At least she’s alive.

(It would have been horribly ironic, not to mention tragic, if she’d somehow gotten herself killed when she was this close to making it out the other side of the mess Team Galactic is forcing her to clean up.)

“Diana!” Barry blurts, turning suddenly. He says into his poketch, “She’s awake, gotta go,” and hangs up before Cynthia can get a word out.

“What happened?” Cynthia asks, squinting out at nothing in particular.

“Uhhhh,” Barry says, “you fell into a lake and fortunately your Empoleon fished you out because I had no gods damn idea what to do—“

“I was. Afraid of that.” She rubs the back of her head with a wince. She really would prefer to not be going into what’s to come with a concussion but it can’t be that bad of one. She’s had worse. She can handle it.

(She has to. She didn't pass out from hitting her head, she's pretty sure, but from the shock of hitting the water afterwards. So—yeah, she's definitely had worse in the concussion department. She's fine. And if she's not fine, that can wait until after she's solved the major problem that answers to Cyrus.)

“Are you…” Barry winces, hard. “Dumb question, you’re definitely not okay—“

“What happened with Galactic?”

His gaze falls to his shoes. He scuffs up the snow a bit with one of them. “I couldn’t stop them.”

And how can Cynthia tell him that there was no way he could? That there was no way either of them could have? That they’d come here to fail? She'd meant to at least be convincing in her attempts to save Uxie, even though she knew she was doomed already, but.

Gods. (Literally.)

“Don’t blame yourself,” Cynthia says quietly. “I couldn’t either.”

The world seems... louder than usual, compared to her. Maybe she is concussed. Or—

It occurs to her, suddenly, to reach into her pocket for her hairclips. There’s nothing there. No hairclips, and no pocket. Cynthia’s eyes go wide and she barely keeps her voice even when she asks, “Barry, where is my coat?”

“Uhh, Cheryl told me to try and get it off you since it was soaking wet,” Barry says uneasily. “It’s behind you. Uh, both of them, actually, why did you have two coats...?"

"Reasons," Cynthia says, as Corundum stomps her way over to grab it. "One of them usually isn't mine—not that one, the black one, yes, thank you Corundum—"

"Is it just me," Barry says as she searches a bit frantically through her coat pockets, "or—I swear I've seen that exact coat, jacket, whatever, somewhere before..."

Uh oh. He's connecting the dots. Cynthia pulls out her hairclips, intending to hide them quickly, but not quickly enough. Barry's eyes go wide. And she says, "Barry—"

"Oh my gods," Barry blurts. "You really are that Cynthia lady's ex!"

Maelstrom, the traitor, starts to cackle distantly. Cynthia buries her head in her hands and waits for the world to get quieter again before she mutters, "That's not—we have much more important issues right now. Have you heard from Riley or Cheryl?"

"Uh, yeah, I've been talking to both of them," Barry says innocently, and there goes any hope of them not finding out about this. "Also, uh—is your poketch waterproof?"

Cynthia's eyes widen and she raises her wrist. "It should—" She's cut off by the screen, already cracked, falling off entirely. She turns her wrist and a not insignificant amount of water spills out of it. "...well, it was."

Barry watches it with wider eyes. "I don't think it is now."

"Somehow, I think you're right." Cynthia sighs. "I'd been meaning to get a new one sooner rather than later anyway, I suppose. This is—fine. Were either of the others able to—?"

"No," Barry says miserably. He takes a seat against a tree, pulling his legs up against his chest. His Infernape sits beside him and rubs circles into his back. "And we don't have any kind of lead—"

"We do," Cynthia corrects him. And then decides—she no longer cares if Jupiter figures her out or not, at least not based on things she was never actually told. For all Jupiter knows, maybe she can read minds.

"We do?" Barry perks up a bit. "Or— you do, I didn't—I wasn't... any help, really."

"She said something about Veilstone," Cynthia lies. "There was a base there, a few months ago—I think you might have been busy with the gym at the time, but they briefly stole Lucas's pokedex—"

"Oh! I remember that."

"In any case," Cynthia gets to her feet, a bit shakily, and leaning against the tree. "...okay, I might need a little help from your Infernape on this one. But you helped, Barry. And even if you didn't, I think—"

"What?" He demands.

"I think nearly dying kind of cancels that out," Cynthia says half-jokingly. "...I know that's what Cheryl would say. Riley used to be all kinds of irresponsible, but these days he might agree with her."

"...alright," Barry says suspiciously. "What about you?"

"Me?"

"What would you say? What do you think? ...Diana?"

She takes a deep breath, and lets it out. "Barry, I have made... many questionable decisions in my life. I'd like to think I'm making better ones these days, but it would not have been worth it if I died. I couldn't have done anything about Galactic if I did, or if I'd gotten hurt badly enough that I couldn't help stop them."

Slowly, Barry nods. "Is this... related to what happened to your old pokemon?"

"Yes," Cynthia says. She leans against Maelstrom and adds, "But I'll see them again soon—I'm honestly a little afraid of what antics Milady in particular will get up to combined with certain other pokemon who will not be named."

"Oooh?" Barry looks interested. "Do you need backup busting your pokemon out of—uhh, pokejail? Pokeprison?"

Cynthia snorts. "The offer is appreciated, but I think I'll be fine. Can you pass something on to the others? Ask them to meet us in Veilstone. We're not done yet. If Galactic took the lake guardians there, then we're going to get them back."

Determination in his eyes, Barry nods. "Got it. Uh—anything else?"

"...maybe one more thing." She smiles gently at the snow. "Can you tell Cheryl I love her? I know I'll be seeing her again in a few hours, I just—"

"You're gay as distortion, we know," he says, and starts typing. "I gotcha, though."

"Thank you," Cynthia says. She really does hope he makes it to the League, after all this is over. Ideally, she'd hope that all three of these kids would, but she doubts Lucas is going to be the challenging type. Dawn, though, and Barry? Either one of them could be the next champion, one day.

Either one of them is the kind of person she'd like to be the champion, one day.

(She can only hope that—whichever one of them does manage to defeat her, that the other isn't broken by it. Like Cyrus was.)

"Barry?" She says, glancing up suddenly.

"Mmm?"

"You're more than how strong you are in battle," Cynthia tells him, and she wishes someone had told her that, and she wishes someone had told Cyrus that. Before. "Please—don't ever let yourself forget that."

Barry gives her a long look. At last, and uncharacteristically solemnly, he nods.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

PKMN Trainer Barry
Rush - Zip - Rapid - Swift - Wander - Tiny

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Long shadows stretching from the west cover much of Veilstone City by the time Barry's Staraptor touches down just outside the pokemon center. The sun has dipped low enough in the sky that it can't be seen behind Mt. Coronet, but sunset isn't for at least a few minutes more. Cynthia knows it will be long since dark out by the time they're done here, and her gaze flicks upwards even now, to where she knows the Spear Pillar is.

To where her other self will be, in a matter of hours.

"Diana? You good?" Barry asks.

"I will be," Cynthia says, which in retrospect probably is more worrying than a no. She shakes her head and says, "Let's just find—did they say where to meet them?"

"Uh. Pokecenter. We're right here." Barry gestures vaguely at the door, then walks towards it. The automatic doors open just quickly enough for him to perk up and dash inside, almost certainly to tackle-hug one of his friends.

"Diana," Riley says sharply, and yep there he is over there next to Cheryl. "What were you thinking, you could have died!"

"But I didn't?" Cynthia tries, hopefully, once she's close enough.

Riley just gives her a look, and lowers his voice. "That didn't work for me and it's not going to work for you. Cynth, what the fuck?"

"I... listen."

"I'm listening."

"It needed to be convincing or she would have been suspicious."

"She?"

"Jupiter," Cynthia clarifies. "I thought the ice was solid enough to hold my weight, otherwise I wouldn't have gone after her. I knew it wouldn't have changed anything—"

"Would you have not gone after her?" Cheryl asks, speaking for the first time. She doesn't look up from her lap.

"...maybe not, but I would have at least been smarter about it," she amends, taking a seat between the two. "Cheryl, are you—"

"Okay?" Cheryl laughs weakly. "What do you think? Cynthia, I don't think you're taking this as seriously as—you could have died. You could have died—"

"I know, that close to being out of this mess would have just been embarrassing," Cynthia says with a laugh of her own.

"That is not what I mean and you know it," Cheryl replies, and Cynthia shuts her mouth because she does. "Cynthia, do you realize how crushed literally everyone who knows you would be if you died? Do you realize how crushed I would be? Taking care of yourself isn't limited to eating and sleeping right, it's—you have to be more careful. I know I can't stop you but please."

"I'm sorry," Cynthia says, because she is. She takes her girlfriend's hand in hers and continues, softer, "I—know I'm not very good at this. Or anything besides battling, these days. But I can try."

"Just... please take two seconds to think before leaping headfirst into new and potentially dangerous situations?" Cheryl shakes her head. "Two seconds. That's all I ask."

"Ten."

"That's a little long—"

"Five, then," Cynthia says firmly. "Just to—figure things out. And think."

"...I'm a little afraid to ask how much of that you do normally," Cheryl says with a wry smile. 

"Some! Plenty, even!"

Riley snorts and says, "I'll go check on the kids." He walks off.

"Cheryl, I—" Cynthia takes a deep breath, and lets it out. 

"Mm?" Cheryl looks at her, green eyes shining a bit in the light.

"I can try to be more careful." She pauses, shakes her head. "I will be more careful. But I don't want anyone else to have to go through what I did, Cheryl. And I—Cyrus was our friend but that doesn't mean I'm just going to stand by and let them do this. I can't let this happen. I can't let them destroy everything."

"I know. Gods, I know, just..." Cheryl blinks hard. "I don't want to lose you too, Cynthia. Not again."

"You won't," Cynthia promises. 

She could kiss her right now. But she doesn't. Instead, she reaches out, pulling her into a hug. Hesitantly at first, and then when Cheryl hugs her back, she rests her head on top of hers and just. Holds her, and lets herself be held, for a while. Maybe she needed a hug more than she thought. Maybe a lot more than she thought.

"Ha! Gay," someone says, and she glances up to see Dawn.

"Yes, and?"

Dawn grins. "It's kinda cute. Are we ready to take names and kick Galactic's collective ass?"

It's not exactly how Cynthia would have phrased it herself, she'll admit. But she looks at the assembled trainers, her friends. There's Lucas, unsure what he wants out of life but full of so much love for his pokemon and his friends and his family. Barry, so impulsive and determined to be just like—ideally even better than—the dad he hasn't seen in years. Dawn, straddling the gap between training and contests the way Cynthia's only seen a handful of people do before and striving to master them both.

And there's Riley, who—really should have at least considered hating Cynthia for leaving him behind. Who's the same old friend of hers that knocked himself out in poor attempts to show off on enough occasions that she couldn't keep count if she wanted to. Who's— apparently —a full-fledged if still largely self-taught aura guardian now, who's achieved all he ever dreamed and is still, impossibly, her friend.

And Cheryl, who is without any exaggeration the strongest person Cynthia knows. The strongest, and by far the kindest, and she loves her. Gods, she loves her so, so much, and she can't imagine how it took her so long to realize there was something there when it seems so obvious now. She wishes she'd figured it out sooner, but—well. She wishes she'd done a lot of things sooner.

But she's done them now. She can change things, here and now. Both the small things like relationships she never should have neglected, and the larger things like Team Galactic and what Cyrus will soon do.

She can fix things. Or at the very least, she can try to. But she's feeling optimistic, tonight.

Cynthia looks around, and she smiles, and she replies, "They won't know what hit them."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Breaking into Team Galactic's main base is, in the end, much easier said than done.

Personally, Cynthia thinks it would have been easier if they'd all just gone in with metaphorical guns blazing, but she gets outvoted by reasoning along the lines of oh my gods, Cynth, there are way more of them than there are of us and we need the element of surprise.

...so. Just walking in and destroying the place is, sadly, out of the question. The plan is to get in, free the Lake Guardians, and get out. Which is easier said than done. Much easier said than done.

Barry volunteers to wait outside with Lucas, to make sure they have a way out if (really, when, Cynthia is not great at things like stealth and avoiding discovery) anyone gets caught and they have to run very fast. This leaves the group actually going in to consist of Cynthia, Cheryl, Riley... and Dawn.

It's almost like old times, except that in old times, Cyrus was right here with them, and not blocking the path Riley had sworn up and down leads to where the lake trio is being held. And not, of course, the leader of the group that's trying to destroy Sinnoh.

(Riley and Cheryl had gotten separated from her and Dawn a few rooms back. Cynthia knows they're on their way, too, but—there's no time.)

Dawn, peeking around the corner, barely muffles a gasp before Cynthia tugs her back. "Is that—I swear I've seen that person somewhere before..."

"That," Cynthia whispers back, "is Cyrus. The leader of Team Galactic. And..." She trails off, shakes her head.

"And?" Dawn prompts.

"It's nothing." It's a lot more than nothing. "We need to get past them to—"

"Lake guardians."

"Yes. But they will see us, and they absolutely can't see me. Unless..."

"Unless...?" Dawn apparently decides not to question that right now. "Why can't they see you?"

"Long story. Ask me tomorrow." Assuming, of course, that there is a tomorrow, but. Cynthia didn't come this far to not be optimistic. "I hate to ask you to do this, but—"

"Sure thing. Can I borrow your Lopunny's knife?"

Cynthia stares at Dawn briefly like she's spontaneously grown a second head. "...no, that’s hers, and I think we may be talking about two different things."

"I'm just saying—" Dawn sighs. "Okay, fine, what do you want me to do?"

"Distract them. Ideally with a pokemon battle—they're good, but so are you. I don't need you to win, just to make the fight long enough and difficult enough on their end that they have to think and won’t be watching for anything else.”

Dawn squints at her suspiciously. "Then can I kick their ass?"

"Yeah. Just—be ready to run once I get back."

(Cynthia isn’t one to take things slow at the best of times. This scenario is quite far from the best of times. Riley had closed his eyes and set a hand against the wall and tried to locate the lake guardians from outside, and flinched away with eyes widening within moments. They’re in pain, he’d said. We need to hurry.)

She blinks, and Dawn’s gone to challenge Cyrus with a holler of “Hey!”

She closes her eyes, and leans against the wall, and listens to the person that used to be her best friend say in a near-monotone, “You must be the child so determined to stop us.”

“For the record,” Dawn retorts, “I’m fifteen. And I’m not just determined to stop you, I am going to stop you, here and now! Tuxedo, get their ass!”

“Rrrray!” Tuxedo growls.

“A battle, then?” Cyrus says. “If you insist.” There’s the sound of a pokeball opening, and a gasp from Dawn.

“Hey, what the fuck,” Dawn says, and Cynthia risks a peek. On one side of Cyrus’s office is Dawn, her Luxray by her side with fur bristling. And on the other, behind their desk… is Cyrus, and a very specific Crobat.

“Poison Fang,” Cyrus says, and their Crobat obeys, sinking its fangs into the Luxray. Tuxedo stumbles backwards, claws skidding against the metal floor, but it doesn’t look like she’s poisoned. That’s good.

Hands balled up into fists, Dawn shouts, “Thunder Fang!”

And Cynthia takes that as her cue to leave, dashing across the stretch of hallway open to Cyrus’s office. If they see her, they don’t comment on it—and there’s a nonzero chance they don’t see her at all, not when they are busy recalling their Crobat in favor of one of their relatively few pokemon not weak to electricity.

If only they still had a Rotom. (She still doesn’t know what happened to xyr between Cyrus’s disappearance and Lucas meeting a Rotom in the Old Chateau. But whatever it was, it is very clear that Tesla blames Cyrus for it.)

(She wonders if that’s why Lucas had volunteered to keep watch, or at least part of why.)

There’s another warp panel on the far side of the hallway, and Cynthia steps into it without hesitation, one hand on Helios’s pokeball. The panel takes her to a different hallway, somewhere in the building. It’s darker. Dustier. Something about it—maybe a lot of somethings about it—makes her feel like she’s being watched, even though this hallway is deserted.

She sends out Helios preemptively. The little Jolteon’s ears droop, and he rubs up against her leg with a whimper. Cynthia pets him, ignoring the slight shock from the static buildup, and keeps moving. At the end of the hallway is a doorway, darkened. She steps inside, fumbles on the wall for a light switch.

There’s—something here. Three somethings, trapped in three identical vats of a liquid Cynthia can’t identify and doesn’t really want to, hooked up to all kinds of tubes and machines. Mespirit is curled in upon faerself, visibly shuddering. Azelf’s eyes are scrunched shut from pain. And Uxie…

Uxie’s eyes are shut, but they always are. Still, Cynthia watches as fae extends one shaking arm to point to a button beneath faer prison and whispers in her mind, “freE uS.”

“On it,” Cynthia promises. The three are spread throughout the room, with Mespirit to the southwest, Azelf to the southeast, and Uxie at the far, northern side. She makes for the button, Helios trailing behind her with his ears pressed flat against his head, and slams it with as much force as she can muster. There’s an audible pop, and—something in the air changes.

Cynthia couldn’t say what. But whatever it is, it clearly is enough for the triplet guardians of Sinnoh’s lakes. First Azelf teleports out of faer containment. Then Mespirit. And then Uxie. Azelf and Mespirit exchange a look and independently hurl themselves bodily out the window.

Uxie lingers, for a moment. Fae says, “wE wilL noT forgeT thiS.”

And then, as footsteps approach, as Cynthia’s gaze slips away from the Being of Knowledge in favor of getting ready for another fight, Uxie dips faer head and follows the Beings of Emotion and Willpower in their flight.

“Nor will I,” Cynthia whispers.

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa - Glee - Blue

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

It isn't long after the lake guardians leave that the footsteps she'd heard become Charon, and… someone she actually doesn’t recognize, but who still looks a little more important than a grunt.

“Are you fucking kidding me,” the other admin(?) blurts, throwing his hands up in exasperation as he surveys the room, empty of all but a trainer that clearly isn't supposed to be here and her growling Jolteon. “Who in distortion are you? What in distortion are you doing here—“

“Just a trainer who’s had a few run-ins with your lovely little organization before, and decided that she should do something about you,” Cynthia says with a hostile smile.

Charon squints at her suspiciously. “That’s the one who sent Mars packing at the Windworks, with that kid fighting Cyrus now.”

“Winning against Cyrus, I’d expect. She's quite good at what she does." Her smile grows. "But she's hardly your problem right now. I am."

"She freed the guardians," Charon says with a derisive sniff. "Well, that hardly matters now. Team Galactic has what it needs from them."

"Probably for the best," the other mutters.

Charon shrugs. "If you insist. But the fact of the matter remains, that we can hardly let you leave. Slowking, deal with this... nuisance."

Cynthia wrinkles her nose at the fact that he still hasn't bothered to give his pokemon a name. And the fact that he apparently thinks his Slowking can deal with a... Jolteon.

"Are you fucking stupid," the other admin blurts.

"You know the answer to that question, Saturn," Charon mutters, "but you would not ask it anew if you didn't have a reason for—"

"Uh. Water-type." Saturn gestures emphatically to the Slowking, and then points at the Jolteon and says, " Electric-type?" He scoffs and shakes his head. "Damn, why are you even here if you can't—"

"I never said," Charon says tightly, "that I didn't have a plan. Now are you going to make yourself useful, or are you just going to stand there?"

"I'll clean up the mess when you fuck up." Saturn tosses forth a pokeball carelessly. "Britney, you deal with this."

Britney is a... Toxicroak, apparently, that shudders in anticipation. Given that the mon in question is a poison-type, it's impressive how much psychic damage it deals. But that aside: the immense amounts of psychic damage Cynthia just took from this pokemon's nickname does give her an idea.

"Well, one on two is hardly fair, though I'm sure Helios could handle it." Cynthia sends out a second pokemon, and Celeste takes up position calmly besides the Jolteon, shuddering as well as she copies—huh, must be the Toxicroak's ability. "Do you really want to do this still?"

Saturn narrows his eyes and says, "X-Scissor." The Toxicroak leaps across the room for Celeste, slashing its claws in an X-shape as they glow slightly green.

"Strike back. Psychic," Cynthia replies. Celeste's eyes glow pink and she lashes out with a wave of psychic energy, blasting Saturn's pokemon backwards with it. The Toxicroak is unconscious before it hits the ground, much to Saturn's annoyance. "And Helios—take out that Slowking with Shock Wave—"

"Disable," Charon says calmly. 

Not a bad strategy, Cynthia would admit. But she's hardly going to admit that to someone like him. Particularly not when it would only work if his Slowking powered through the first super-effective hit. It would be possible, in theory, for that Slowking to do that. There are many recorded instances of pokemon doing impossible things for their trainers—surviving a hit that should have knocked them out or worse, or breaking free of paralysis, or hitting the enemy far harder than normal.

Every single one of these phenomena, however, involved a pokemon that loved their trainer dearly.

It's not a surprise that Charon's Slowking falters immediately, though her heart goes out to that poor pokemon for being stuck with him. Charon recalls his pokemon with a visible scowl, while Saturn sends out a Bronzor and commands, "Bastille, Shadow Ball."

"Celeste," Cynthia says evenly, "use—"

Celeste looks at her, and shakes her head. In the blink of an eye, she's kneeling besides Helios, gathering up the Jolteon in her arms. In the blink of another, she's next to Cynthia, and after tapping her on the arm, they're—

"Oh, hi Diana, hi Celeste, hi Helios!" Dawn's standing alone in Cyrus's office, with a purple pokeball in hand. She's patting her Steelix appreciatively with her free hand—Mesa barely fits in the room—and there's no sign of Cyrus. "Mission accomplished?"

"Mission accomplished, though we should... probably get moving?" Cynthia glances to Celeste for confirmation. The Gardevoir shrugs. Apparently the limit of her help was in exiting that particular battle. Speaking of which... "And when did you relearn Teleport?"

Celeste shrugs again, though this time it's with an unapologetic gleam in her eyes.

"...what other move did you forget to learn Teleport again?"

The Gardevoir laughs in response, and Cynthia decides that is definitely a post-Galactic problem, or at least a problem for after they are out of this building. She turns to Dawn and says, "We should go, though—"

"Though?" Dawn prompts, recalling Mesa and going to walk with her. Cynthia recalls Helios, too, considers taking Celeste out of the fray too, and then thinks better of it.

"Where did Cyrus go?"

"I kicked their ass," Dawn says matter-of-factly. "They gave me this weird pokeball and said they didn't need it, said I was welcome to follow them to Mt. Coronet and try to stop them, and then stepped on another gods damn warp tile that they deactivated from the other side before I could follow them."

"Mt. Coronet," Cynthia repeats. She knew this, but—it had been Dawn that told her this originally, hadn't it? "Wait, weird pokeball? What do you..."

Dawn holds it up without a word. It's purple and pink on top, white on the bottom, and has a tiny M printed on the top. Cynthia knows exactly what this is.

How in distortion did Cyrus get their hands on one of these? And... why didn't they think they'd need it...

Oh. Wait. The Red Chain.

"You seen one of these before?" Dawn asks curiously.

"That," Cynthia says, "is a Master Ball. They are very rare, and got taken out of production several years ago, so... well. You can generally only get them if you pay a lot of money, or win a lottery ticket, or are—I don't know, the region's champion or something." That's a lie, but it's certainly true that people seem to think being the champion means she can get these easily.

"Oh. Huh. Why are they so rare?"

"They can catch any pokemon, without fail. Rumor has it that even the gods of this world aren't immune to them, though—of course, you'd have to hit a pokemon with it first." Cynthia quickens her pace. "That's why they were taken out of service. Catching pokemon is about proving to them that you're worthy of their trust, and if you just could catch them automatically... it defeats the entire purpose."

"Oh."

"Also," Cynthia continues, "you'd have to open that pokeball someday. And when you did... whatever you trapped inside would almost certainly not be happy with you for doing that."

"Oh," Dawn says, frowning. "That's... pretty fucked, actually, no wonder they discontinued them."

"I'd use one if my life depended on it," Cynthia says with a shrug. "I assume Cyrus must have wanted it for... part of their plans, unless and until they found a method that relied less on hand-eye coordination." And they had. They had, and they will use it tonight.

"Huh. So they... wait, they captured the three lake guardians, wouldn't this have made that... easier...?"

"I don't know. And at this point..." Cynthia shakes her head. "Dawn, I need you to do me a favor once we're out of here. Head to the gym, look for Cynthia—"

"Your ex? That Cynthia?"

Cynthia groans and doesn't deny it. At this point she no longer cares about the weird... love triangle? Quadrangle? That the kids have put her into with herself, also herself, and Cheryl. "Yes. That Cynthia. I need you to tell her—"

"Where to shove it? Weird flex but—"

"No," Cynthia says before Dawn can get any more bad ideas. "No, she's... not that bad. She's... impulsive, and reckless, and definitely doesn't think things through before she does them. But her heart's in the right place, and I know she'll come around in the end."

Even if it'll take her a year to do it.

Dawn still looks unconvinced—Barry must have shared how poorly things went between herself and herself back when Galactic bombed the Great Marsh—and so Cynthia adds, "Just give her a chance. She's the most skilled trainer I know."

That gets Dawn's attention. "Really?"

Cynthia nods. Of all the things she's had trouble maintaining confidence in over the years, her own skill in battle has never been in question, and she's grateful for that. "I need you to find her in—maybe around—the Veilstone Gym. And I need you to tell her that the leader of Team Galactic is someone named Cyrus—describe them for her if she doesn't believe you, she'll know who you mean—and that they're going to Mt. Coronet, and..."

"That's a lot, okay. And...?"

"And..." Well, there's a chance that Dawn would say this anyway if she didn't specify it, but... "Make sure you tell her that they had a Crobat. Okay?"

"...okay." Dawn squints at her suspiciously. They're almost out of here now, and—the complex has been nearly deserted on their way out, which means that either Riley is causing problems for them elsewhere or... the rest of Galactic is making for the mountain already. "Why?"

"We used to know them."

I used to know them.

"And..." Cynthia blinks hard. "If nothing else, it'll get her attention."

(It'll do a lot more than get her attention. It'll be what leads her to try to reach out to her old friend, at the top of the mountain in the end of the world. It'll be what results in her being thrown into the past in the first place. She's seen plenty of movies. She knows that if she wants to make it out of this, she needs to—complete the loop, so to speak.)

(That doesn't mean, of course, that she likes being responsible for that. Quite the opposite.)

"Alrighty," Dawn says. "Diana, are... you okay?"

"I will be," comes Cynthia's slightly late response. "Tomorrow."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa - Glee - Blue

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Even though she knows what's going to happen, what has to happen, it's still a surprise on some level when Cynthia Prime is waiting for them. Prime's leaning against a wall, tossing a pokeball up and down, and when she catches sight of the group she remarks dryly, "I was hoping you'd arrive soon. I'd rather not have to take down a terrorist organization alone aga—"

She freezes, staring, at the woman in green beside her, and whispers, "Cheryl?"

Cheryl gives an awkward little wave. "Hi—"

"Hey, Cynth," Riley says. "Been a while, huh?"

(...wait. Cynthia doesn't remember this. Though she had hit her head fairly hard after—during, really—being thrown into the past. Still, it's... unfortunate that she doesn't remember this, from the other side. At least not well, though now that she thinks about it—yes, it happened, and she can't believe it slipped her mind until now.)

(Ugh. Time travel. After tonight, she'll never have to deal with it again.)

"...yes," Prime says. "Yes, it has. I didn't expect... it's good to see you. Both of you. But now's not the time for..." She glances over at Dawn. "You said—tell them what you told me? They need to know."

"About the fucked up enby who wants to destroy the world?" Dawn asks innocently, and Cynthia nearly chokes.

Riley does choke, and after Cheryl smacks his back a few times to make sure he doesn't die, she says, "Cyrus? We know."

"Ah," Prime says faintly. "Good. Then—we need to stop them. Before it's too late. We can catch up—later. Come on, I might know where they're headed."

"Might?" Lucas asks curiously, going to join her.

Cynthia... keeps her distance, for a few reasons. But she does stay within earshot, enough to hear Prime start explaining to him, "It all makes sense now. They want to remake the world. And where best to do that? Where the world was created, of course."

As her past self continues explaining, looking at least a little bit less frazzled as she does so, Cynthia falls back to join Riley and Cheryl and mumbles, "I am so sorry."

Riley pats her shoulder with a slightly strained smile. "That's you from a year ago, huh?"

"Unfortunately."

"She's... you're..." Riley frowns, looking forward at Prime and then back at Cynthia. "...wow. I don't mean to be blunt, but you really were not in good shape then, were you?"

"As far as anyone else knew, I was," Cynthia says. Even from here, she can hear the way that Prime's laughter is a little too forced, can see the way she's just a little too careful not to break. And under the surface... well. "I think I convinced myself I was fine, too."

"Cynthia..." Cheryl's hand is in hers, and she looks like she's a strong breeze away from crying. "You... I had no idea."

Cynthia laughs a little. "Yeah. I pulled myself together again, more or less, by the time I ran into you. I almost certainly would have kept repressing... most things, really, if you hadn't called me out on it when you did. I was already doing a bit better—a lot better, really—by the time our paths crossed again, Riley."

Riley looks a bit shaken. "Yeah. Yeah, I can see that. Though what I don't get... if you met us both here, why didn't you mention that?"

"Yeah, that..." Cheryl frowns. "That doesn't make sense to me either."

"I... honestly? Didn't remember that I did until it happened again," Cynthia says mareepishly. "In retrospect, it was either a concussion, some side effects for being thrown back in time, or both. Possibly a combination of both."

"Cynthia..."  

"Starting tomorrow, you'll actually be able to call me that again," she half-jokes.

"My gods," Riley says. "You're... well. I'm glad you're doing better now, Cynth."

"Yeah. Me too," Cheryl says. "And... we're with you, all the way. Okay?"

"I know this, and I love you," Cynthia says. And she means it in a romantic way, for Cheryl, but also in a you're literally my best friends and I don't know if I would have made it through the year without you way for both of them. She frowns, and she looks to the head of the group, where Prime seems to have attracted the at least vague interest of all three of the kids. "I just... gods, I just wish that she knew that too."

"She will," Riley promises. "And then she'll get back here, and she'll know just how much she's loved."

And that is, apparently, just how much it takes for Cynthia to break down sobbing entirely. But she grins through her tears, and she whispers, voice cracking, "I know."

Their little trio rejoins the others, before too long, at around the time they find the broken cave painting. Prime picks up one of the fragments, hands shaking, and then throws it down and sprints ahead into the tunnel beyond.

"Cynthia!" Cheryl calls after her, but she—doesn't come back.

"Is she doing that in fucking heels," Dawn says suddenly. "Because my respect for that bitch just shot the fuck up, gods damn."

"I'm also doing this in heels," Cynthia mutters. Internally, she adds, and I'm also that bitch.

"Well, yeah, but we like you, Diana."

"...thanks."

Riley clears his throat awkwardly and says, "She can handle herself, but we should pick up the— Diana!"

"I'll see you at the top," Cynthia says, and then she's gone too. She catches up to Prime as she's sending a Galactic grunt running close to the summit, and though she's got a pokemon out, Prime glances back over her shoulder and recalls whoever it is quickly.

"Why are you here?" Prime asks, a bit suspiciously, with a raised eyebrow and a hand on her hip. "You've got no stake in all this. Riley and Cheryl, I get, they heard about Cyrus somehow, probably from Dawn. And Dawn and her friends, they're filling out pokedexes, aren't they? Kids filling pokedexes always end up involved in stopping things like this, I would know. But you."

Cynthia, nodding slightly after that I would know comment, glances up suddenly. "Sorry?"

"You don't make sense. Why are you here?"

"You have no idea," Cynthia mutters. Louder, she says, "Because I live in this world too."

"...ah," Prime says. She rubs her eyes. "You have a point. Fine, just... don't get in my way, alright?"

"I won't," Cynthia promises. "I know you're a strong trainer. Probably a lot stronger than me."

Prime snorts. "Cheryl told you, huh?"

"Well, also, I have eyes and I pay at least a little attention to national news," Cynthia adds. "I've got seven badges to my name. You're the champion."

"...ah." Prime looks away, and starts walking again.

"But Cheryl did mention you, too," Cynthia adds, joining her.

"She did? What did she..." Prime frowns and walks faster. "That doesn't... so you, and her..."

She won't remember this. But Cynthia still feels a little guilty telling her past self, "Yes."

"Ah. That's... that's fine. Listen, you're... Diana, wasn't it?"

Cynthia blinks in surprise, almost forgetting to respond. "Yes—"

"I'm glad she's got you. You... clearly make her happy." Prime forces a smile. "So... take care of her, alright? She deserves that."

"I can do that,” Cynthia says, still staring a little in sheer, undulated shock. "Though... Cynthia?"

"Yes...?"

Now it's her turn to smile a little sadly, because she knows that she won't remember this. And yet she still says, "I wouldn't give up hope for yourself just yet."

 


 

PKMN Trainer "Diana"
Maelstrom - Corundum - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

Champion Cynthia
Aster - Coronet - Rosaceae - Rascal - Eros - Banshee

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

She knows, when she and her past self are confronted by one final grunt standing sentinel, what is about to happen. And she takes out Celeste's pokeball, and she looks to Prime for the last time, and she tells her, "Go."

Prime meets her eyes with a quick nod. And, as Cynthia sends out her Gardevoir, Prime makes a break for it, a pokeball of her own in her hands—a pokeball that Cynthia knows in her heart is her Spiritomb's.

"Stop her!" The grunt commands, and her Golbat launches itself at the fleeing champion with a screech.

"Oh no, you don't," Cynthia says firmly. "Celeste—"

"Garrde!" Celeste trills, and a wave of psychic energy freezes the Golbat in place before slamming it into the floor, kicking up a cloud of dust in the process. When it clears, the Golbat has fainted, while Prime is a further distance down the tunnel, Banshee out of their ball and levitating alongside her with their own Psychic.

"You bitch!"

Cynthia ignores the grunt. She watches Prime climb the last few sets of stairs, and then—she's gone.

(She's not. She's Cynthia, after all, just the same as she is Cynthia now.)

"Goodbye, Prime," Cynthia whispers under her breath. She returns her attention to the battle then. Celeste handles the Croagunk sent out next beautifully, and as for the Murkrow—well. Corundum can handle that.

And Corundum does handle that, calling a Stone Edge up from the earth with a furious cry before standing back and beginning to glow. A Golem stands there instead of a Graveler by the time the light has faded, and the grunt Cynthia's just defeated lets out an undignified noise before turning and sprinting headlong back down the mountain.

"Well done, Corundum," Cynthia says, and she could cry for so many reasons. She considers recalling her, then decides against it, because—well. She can't exactly go up herself right now, can she? She's going to have to wait, at least until her past self is gone. So she risks a few, short, desperate moments to kneel and hug her Golem, and then she starts up the stairs herself.

She stops near the top. She can see what's happening, from here, but no one there can see her. Cyrus has the gods of time and space encircled within crystalline crimson chains. She can see herself yelling at them, sending out her pokemon and preparing to fight two gods. She can see the trio of lake guardians float up the other side of the mountain, encircling Dialga and significantly evening the odds of this fight (but not evening them enough.)

"Golem, golem," Corundum whispers in a nervous tone.

"Agreed," Cynthia says, shrugging off the coat she'd borrowed from Maylene months ago. She offers it to Corundum, briefly, and asks, "Hold this?"

The Golem nods. She ends up holding it for not much more than a minute, as Cynthia unties her own coat from around her waist and puts it back on, as she clips her hairclips back where they belong—in her hair—and takes a few last moments to breathe. Then she takes back the coat, stuffing it into her bag, and she asks Corundum, "How do I look?"

Corundum gives her a wordless, three-fingered thumbs-up, which Cynthia takes as good enough. And anyway, they're running out of time. As Cynthia watches, her past self recalls her Lucario. With only her Garchomp left on the field, she watches herself walk forward, and make the mistake that sent her careening backwards in time.

(She'd make it again, in a heartbeat.)

She watches, unable to tear her gaze away, as an orb of pink and blue, fired by the gods of space and time, connects with her past self's chest. As she's flung backwards, and disappears to a year ago. As her Garchomp is left holding her bag, lets out a heartbroken roar, and lunges at Cyrus, knocking them bodily to the ground.

Something cracks. Cyrus screams, "Get off me!"

Dialga roars, parting time itself to knock Aster off Cyrus to one side. The Garchomp falters, nearly collapsing, but staggers back to her feet nonetheless.

"Come on," Cynthia says urgently, and sprints up the last few stairs. Corundum rolls after her, but the path to the Spear Pillar is—longer than she remembered. Aster is on one side of Cyrus, struggling to get to her feet. Mars and Jupiter are on the other, still staring dumbfounded at the pillar where she'd disappeared.

She's close enough to hear Cyrus say, "Whatever you did to Cynthia. Do it again."

Cynthia's eyes go wide. She whispers, desperately, "No."  

She tries to push herself faster, to reach her fallen Garchomp sooner. But it's Corundum who takes the initiative, Corundum who rolls faster, away from her other pokemon, and then stomps harder than she's ever seen her before. It's Corundum who calls up a massive ridge of stone, obscuring both her and Aster from view.

Cynthia runs, already pulling the most effective potion she's got from her new bag. As she approaches, Aster lifts her head weakly, beginning to growl, but—sees Cynthia—and stops. Tears well up in her eyes.

"Gaarr?" Aster asks quietly, as Cynthia drops to her knees beside her and—pulls her dragon into the tightest hug she's ever given, shoulders shaking. Garchomp, as a species, isn't really built for hugging what with the naturally rough skin and all—but that is hardly about to stop Cynthia. Especially not now.

"It's me, I'm back, I promise," Cynthia sobs, hugging her Garchomp for the first time in a year. She sprays the max potion, helps her dragon to her feet as it sets in, and blinks away her tears before telling Aster, "I promise I'll explain what happened after all this is over. But right now... are you ready for round two?"

"Gar chomp," Aster growls, crouching low to the ground in a clear affirmative. Cynthia pulls herself onto the dragon's back, takes five seconds to breathe, and they charge through the barricade that Corundum had called up—just in time to see Corundum take a Hydro Pump from Palkia to the face, skid backwards against the old stone, and lie still.

 


 

Champion Cynthia
Aster - Maelstrom - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

To say that Cynthia is furious, about oh so many things, is the understatement of the year. But she bites her tongue as Aster lands beside Corundum, because her first priority is making sure that—

Well. Corundum makes it back into the ball, and that... wouldn't be the case if she was dead. She'll be alright, thank the gods that aren't here and under Cyrus's control. Cynthia whispers an apology to the pokeball, tucks it away into her bag, and glares.

"Uh," Mars says, backing up a bit, "did. She not just. Disappear."

"No, she definitely did," Jupiter says just as uneasily. "What the fuck just happened?"

"Oh, you know," Cynthia says dismissively. "It'll take a lot more than that to get rid of me."

"That... doesn't..." Cyrus's brow furrows, as they raise their hands to look at them, hands that are each encircled by a length of the chain redder than blood. "That hardly matters now. You lack the strength to stop me."

Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "Are you sure about that?"

Their eyes narrow. That's a no. They clear their throat and say, "Mars, Jupiter. Ensure I am not disturbed."

"On it, boss!" Mars salutes with one hand and tosses out her Purugly with the other. Jupiter's Skuntank joins her.

"Let's make this quick," Cynthia says, finally hopping off her dragon's back and taking a few steps so she can battle unhindered. "Earthquake!"

Aster growls, long and low, before leaping into the air—

"Felis, Fake Out!" Mars calls, and Aster flinches backwards, startled out of her attack.

"Gastro, Poison Jab," Jupiter commands, and—gods, okay, poisoned already.

That's okay. Barring something like Fake Out? Cynthia knows her Garchomp is faster. She recovers quickly, shaking her head before slamming the ground beneath them so hard it starts to shudder and shake. Not even the Purugly can stand up to an attack like that, and the Skuntank—naturally—stands even less of a chance.

Except. Behind them...

They've brought Cyrus all the time they need. In the matter of seconds Cynthia took her eyes off of them, they've raised their hands and turned away, commanding the gods wordlessly to do something. Reality itself begins to shift and quake, and—

"No!" Cynthia shouts. She's only got one shot at this now, and it might not work, but.

But. She can't just put her personal feelings before the entirety of Sinnoh—maybe the entire world. (No matter how much she wants to.)

"Aster," she says grimly, looking at Cyrus, "use—"

In an instant, everything goes dark. It's as if the sun has been blotted out of the sky, or as if the sky has been replaced with a writhing, formless mass of black. The only light is that of the Red Chain, twisted painfully around Dialga and around Palkia and around Cyrus.

It coalesces, in moments or years, into a shadow, dripping down from the sky and forming a puddle of void between Cyrus on one side and the gods of space and time on the other. Something emerges from it, eyes burning with a formless red malice. It spreads its wings wide, looming over them.

Cynthia sucks in a breath, staring, raising an arm to shield her eyes as the pokemon beats its wings ever so slightly, and a wave of energy nearly bowls her over . She knows what—or rather who —this is. She'd had her doubts that this pokemon existed still, given the lengths to which all their ancestors went to erase its very name.

"What... is this?" Cyrus says, standing their ground and looking up at the angel of death that has come for them. Their voice shakes slightly. "There's... another? ...that hardly matters now. I, Cyrus, won't have any more interfere—"

"Cyrus, get back," Cynthia says urgently. "Before—"

The dark thing almost smiles, and it lunges for them. A wave of blacker than black shadow covers them both, sinking into the ground and leaving nothing save a puddle of—void. Dialga, Palkia—they're both gone too, stuck behind some kind of sporadically glowing rift for each.

"What the fuck!" Mars hollers. "What did you do?!"

"What did I do?" Cynthia shouts back, more a touch of indignance in her tone. "Do you have any idea what you've done? What you've unleashed?"

"Oh, like you do?"

"I," Cynthia says stiffly, "happen to be an authority on this region's gods, thank you very much. And that one..." She risks approaching the puddle left behind, crouches next to it, and experimentally drops in a rock. There's no sound of it hitting anything, and it vanishes in an instant. Her eyes widen, and she whispers, "It's a portal."

"What? To where?"

"The Distortion World." She stands. Considers pushing one of them in to test if it really is a portal or not, but that really would cause more trouble than it's worth. "And that was... Giratina."

(She can't quite keep from shivering, at speaking a name that hasn't been spoken since before her grandmother was born. She doesn't even know if she's pronouncing it right. Maybe it's better if she isn't.)

"Is that supposed to scare us?" Jupiter says, like she's taken her eyes off the portal since Giratina took Cyrus into it. "Because you'll have to do much better than that—"

"That world, Giratina's home, was separated from this one for a reason," Cynthia says, ignoring Jupiter. "This... gateway, between the worlds... it will have catastrophic effects on ours."

"So?"

Cynthia narrows her eyes. "Rest assured I have no intention of letting your plan go forward. However, you wouldn't be able to create a new world either if this gateway isn't shut, and fast."

"Sounds to me," Mars says airily, "that you need our help. Cute that you think someone like you would be able to get it."

"I don't need your help," Cynthia snaps. She looks at Aster, who nods slowly. "I doubt I could shut it from this side, anyway."

"You're—going in there?!"

Cynthia shuts her eyes. Takes a deep breath, and lets it out, and counts to five in her mind. The last thing she wants to do is willingly enter a hell dimension that no one had genuinely thought existed, until now.

But she knew. She knew, that stopping Cyrus wouldn't be easy. The forgotten god is a surprise, but.

If anyone can do this, it's her.

If anyone can do this, it has to be her.

"Don't get in my way," Cynthia tells both of the present Galactic admins, fully expecting neither to listen.

"Yeah? You're gonna stop us?" Mars bites back. "You and what army?"

"Army isn't the word I'd use. But I didn't come here alone. Didn't you know that already?"

"Cynthia!" comes a shout from the passage to the summit. 

Aster perks up, recognizing the voice immediately. Some of the tension in Cynthia's figure relaxes as she turns, and smiles, and whispers, "Cheryl."

 


 

Champion Cynthia
Aster - Maelstrom - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

Well, one good thing about the others arriving when they do is that figuring out how to keep the Galactic admins from running off the moment that Cynthia turns her back is... suddenly, a much smaller problem.

Less good is Barry surveying the Spear Pillar, squinting at Cynthia suspiciously, and asking, "Where's Diana?"

"Um," Cynthia begins, scrambling for an excuse.

Riley lets his eyes flash with the brilliant blue of aura for a moment, looking directly at Cynthia. He gives her the very smallest of nods, and says, "Down somewhere below us. I'm... ah, certain she'll catch up before too long. What's the situation?"

Cynthia gestures at the massive portal to an alternate dimension behind her. "A god I wasn't sure existed an hour ago jumped Cyrus and took them to the Distortion World."

His mouth falls open. He states, flatly, "I'm sorry, what."

"T-the Distortion World?" Lucas says nervously. "That actually exists?"

"I'd assume that most things we think, or hope, do not exist are at least rooted in reality," Cynthia says tersely. "The Distortion World is apparently not an exception, nor is its guardian."

"...cool," Dawn says. "Well. If it took Cyrus there—let them rot there?? They tried to destroy the world! And they fucking failed!"

"Erm. It's not... that simple." Cynthia turns to look, pensively, into the portal. "If it isn't closed, the Distortion World will tear this one apart. And we can't close it. Only Giratina can."

"...Giratina?"

"The forgotten god of distortion," Cynthia clarifies. "Antimatter. You know."

"No?? I don't??"

"You don't have to." She steps forward, towards it.

"Cynthia, you can't seriously be considering..." Cheryl gulps. "G-going—"

"Someone has to. It might as well be me." She hesitates. "If I... don't come back..."

"Ma'am, I don't even like you," Barry blurts out, "but what the fuck."

"Uh. Yeah," Dawn adds. "My pokemon are doing okay. I can go with you."

"What the FUCK, no, that's WORSE—"

And yet a series of melodic trills from above them draws the entire group's attention upwards. Three minor gods float there, apparently recovered well enough from being attacked by Cyrus. They stare, briefly—and then, one by one, first Mespirit and then Azelf and then Uxie each darts into the portal, disappearing into the blackness.

"...seems to be safe enough," Lucas comments uneasily. "I... don't think they would… go there, if they couldn’t… come back…"

"They wouldn't," Cynthia confirms. She looks to Dawn. "You shouldn't be involved in this to begin with. But you are, and I know—Diana told me—you're a strong trainer. If you truly want to do this, I'd be happy to have your help. But if things go wrong, I want you to run. Understand?"

Dawn scowls. "You're not my mom."

(She might have listened, if she was still 'Diana.' But there's no time to explain that now.)

"Right. Well then." Cynthia takes a deep breath. Lets it out. She's procrastinated long enough. "I'll see you all on the other side."

She recalls her Garchomp, takes a running leap, and—

"—Cynthia, your gla—"

The next thing she knows, she's fallen out of a portal into what can only be the Distortion World itself. There is no solid ground, only a tangentially solid archipelago of islands floating in a horrid void. Something about this place, it—almost saps at her energy, her very will to go on.

Oh, she hates this place already. Cynthia grits her teeth and pulls herself to her feet, scanning the area, as she tries to think of what her gla could have meant... wait.

She smacks a hand against her face. It connects with her glasses. That she'd forgotten to take off.

She scrambles to remove them and stuff them into a coat pocket, just as Dawn comes tumbling after the portal behind her with a undignified yelp.

"Are you alright?" Cynthia asks, squinting out at the now significantly blurrier Distortion World.

...honestly? This is an improvement. She might just not put in her contacts. She can see well enough if she squints.

"What the fuck," comes the slightly disoriented response. "You weren't fucking kidding, this world sure can distortion."

"...I am going to take this as a yes," Cynthia says, turning back to Dawn.

"Mmgh, alright enough," Dawn mutters irritably. "...uh. What happened to your glasses? Weren't you just wearing glasses?"

"I... landed poorly. They broke," Cynthia says unconvincingly. If Dawn picks up on the lie that seems incredibly obvious to her, though, she says nothing to that effect, so Cynthia just continues, "I have contacts, but we don't have time—"

"Bitch, if you can't fucking see, yes we have time for your contacts. Don't even know where to fucking go..."

Cynthia nods quickly, and fumbles for her contacts case. She's nearly finished, blinking rapidly to try and get used to wearing contacts at all again when something roars up ahead, up above. It's a familiar roar.

"What the fuck," Dawn says, looking up. Cynthia catches only a glimpse of black and red and gold. "Is that—?"

"Giratina," Cynthia confirms, and something about saying the god's name here makes her think that maybe she shouldn't do so again. "Only they can open—and close—portals to our world from this one. Why they left it open, I can't imagine, but—"

"Time to beat the shit out of it, then," Dawn decides far too quickly.

"That may be a bad..." Cynthia sighs, and reminds herself that Dawn probably wouldn't believe her here anyway, and says, "We need to find it first. Come on!"

They're joined by the trio of lake guardians, before too long. The three show the way forward, although forward is an odd way to put it when they're running and leaping and searching in every direction but straight forward. The Distortion World is a special hell all its own, and it shows.

Oh, it shows.

"That's got to be it," Dawn says, as yet another floating platform carries them downward. Giratina is waiting there, no longer shrouded in shadow and somehow even more imposing than it had been before. "How good are you at battling?"

"Decent," Cynthia replies, with a small smile at a joke Dawn doesn't yet get.

"Great. So... you knew what this thing was, do you have any idea what type it is?"

The platform comes to a stop. There's nothing now, between them and Giratina. Nothing but an open stretch of soil that's somewhere between human flesh and silly putty in hue. "A... not insignificant portion of gods are dragon-types. And I'd... guess, ghost or dark?"

"Ghost and dark would be terrifying," Dawn comments, with absolutely no awareness of how funny that is. "Well. Let's get to—"

"No," Cyrus says, standing behind them, "you will not."

 


 

Champion Cynthia
Aster - Maelstrom - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa - Glee - Blue - Crescent

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

"...Cyrus," Cynthia says evenly, putting herself between Dawn and her old friend. (Were they ever friends?)

"Cynthia," Cyrus says in return, narrowing their eyes. There is no sign of the Red Chain, but their eyes are red, glowing with a dull light. Cynthia doesn't know if their eyes used to be red or not. She doesn't remember them well enough.

It doesn't matter. Cynthia clears her throat and says, "Cyrus, this is the Distortion World. A world where time isn't flowing, where space isn't stable. A world where the rules are broken. If the connection between this world and ours isn't severed—"

"The world will be destroyed?" They raise an eyebrow. "Not my initial intent, but it will do."

"It will do? For what?"

"My intent was to make a new world without such weak, fickle things as spirit," Cyrus elaborates. "That now is impossible, thanks to this... shadow's interference. If I cannot fulfill my ultimate goal, I can at least ensure that no one else must suffer from this vague, incomplete, pathetic thing we refer to as spirit."

"Hey, what the fuck," Dawn comments behind her.

Cynthia makes a choice. Without turning her back on Cyrus, she takes out Aster's pokeball, and says, "Dawn? Do you have a preference?"

"On what?"

"Cyrus or Giratina," Cynthia says. "Whatever you choose, I'll watch your back."

Dawn squints at her suspiciously, but sends out a pokemon of her own. It's an Absol, with somewhat raggedy white fur and a grim look on its face at it surveys their surroundings. When did Dawn get an Absol?

"I just kicked their ass, I'll take throwing hands with a god," Dawn says firmly.

"Then I'll make sure you can focus on making sure Giratina closes that portal," Cynthia promises. Aster emerges from her pokeball with an angry roar, putting herself between Cynthia and Cyrus as Dawn turns and runs towards a god.

"You think you can stop this?" Cyrus asks, a single eyebrow raised—and that maddeningly blank expression still, even as they send out their Weavile.

"Yes, I do," Cynthia says. "But I don't have to defeat you. All I have to do is buy Dawn enough time to—" There's a holler behind her, and the crash of a pokemon attacking another, and she sighs. "...fight a god, apparently. So. Shall we get to it?"

Cyrus narrows their eyes. "If you insist. Polaris. Fake Out."

"Dodge it!" Cynthia calls. And Aster doesn't, but that's okay. "Flamethrower, quick!"

Shaking her head to recover from the fake out, Aster opens her mouth and breathes out fire and death. It's almost enough.

"The rest of your pokemon cannot have recovered yet," Cyrus comments. "Polaris. Ice Punch."

"Flamethrower—"

But the ground beneath them shakes with a roar from Giratina, and both attacks go wide. Cynthia wishes she'd taught Aster Brick Break like they'd been considering before this. She wishes she'd done a lot of things, in retrospect. She shakes her head and repeats, "Flamethrower," and the Weavile goes down.

"Oh," Cyrus says, staring for a moment. Something foreign flickers across their face as they recall their fallen pokemon, and send out instead their Gyarados. "Ice Fang."

It's not as hard of a hit as the Ice Punch would have been, but that hardly matters. Aster stumbles back, ice freezing up her scales, and nearly falls. She doesn't, but—

"It's okay, Aster, come back," Cynthia says, and her Garchomp limps back to her side before she can recall her. The rest of her champion team is in even worse shape, and definitely not capable of battling right now. That's okay. She has other pokemon.

She's just going to have to hope that Dawn is too busy with Giratina to look too closely, as she sends out a small Jolteon named Helios. The little eeveelution shakes out his fur and scratches at the strange ground beneath them.

"Earthqu—"

"Shock Wave," Cynthia snarls, and their Gyarados is down too.

Cyrus... pauses. "When did you..." They look down at their next pokeball, and briefly considers their options before their third pokemon proves to be their Houndoom. "Will-O-Wisp."

Burned. That's fine, it's not fine, and Cynthia recalls her Jolteon in favor of an even more recognizable pokemon of 'Diana's.' If Dawn looks now, she'd see Cynthia sending out Diana's knife Buneary, which would raise way too many questions she does not! Have time for! Right now!

But Dawn doesn't look. A kick to the face from Milady handles their Houndoom nicely, and then their Crobat and Honchkrow are—of course— also weak to a good Shock Wave or several. And Cynthia waits, forgetting for a moment—

"How," Cyrus spits, eyes widening. "How could I lose to you now?"

—that they don't have a sixth team member anymore. She wants to know what happened there. And yet, at the same time, she doesn't. 

"Cyrus..." Cynthia recalls her Jolteon, but leaves Aster out, and doesn't step forward. "You keep saying that spirit is weak and pathetic. But it's our spirit that drives us to victory. It's the very thing that you're trying to erase that is driving you onwards."

"And we would all be better off without it," they snap. "Without these ugly emotions, born of spirit. I would not..."

Cyrus trails off suddenly. Their gaze flicks to something behind Cynthia, and she turns too, to see... Giratina, in all its glory. Except that, as they both watch, it crumples to the platform before Dawn and her Absol. Dawn takes out a purple and pink pokeball, her hands shaking.

Giratina recovers before too long, rearing up with an otherworldly shriek. And Dawn...

... drops the Master Ball...

...and stomps on it. (Cynthia has never been more proud.)

"A friend of mine told me that this pokeball could catch any pokemon, even those that didn't want to be caught, maybe even a god," Dawn tells Giratina. "And I won't lie, I considered it for about a second, but that's... kinda fucked! That's not what training pokemon is about. It's about being friends with your pokemon, it's about... you win, or you lose, but you have a good time and you grow as a team. I don't want to use this. I don't think anyone should use this. But... uh, thanks for the battle, do you think you could close that portal on top of Mt. Coronet so we don't all fucking die?"

Giratina considers this. They phase out of existence, letting out a roar as they do, and something about the air... changes. A new portal opens where the forgotten god had been, and all present feel, rather than hear, the word G̸O̴.

"Did... did we do it?" Dawn asks nervously.

"We'll find out," Cynthia says, and looks back to Cyrus, only to find they are not where she left them. They're off a further distance away, nearly at the edge of this particular floating island. "Cyrus!"

"This is not the world I envisioned," Cyrus says without looking. "But it will suffice. Goodbye, Cynthia."

They leap to the next island, and keep walking. And Cynthia watches them go, feeling once again like she's making a mistake. Aster makes a low noise and pats her shoulder with a claw.

"Uhhh," Dawn says, walking back up to stand beside her. "Are we going to leave them here? They're a bitch, but I kinda feel like we shouldn't—"

"We are," Cynthia says reluctantly, because—she doesn't want to get stuck here. She is going to make it home, back to Sinnoh—and she is going to make sure that Dawn does, too. "But I will be coming back for them."

Dawn nods. "Good to know you're not completely heartless. They've got to answer for what they did."

Slowly, Cynthia tears her eyes away, looks to the portal home, and says, "Let's get out of here."

 


 

Champion Cynthia
Aster - Maelstrom - Lunare - Milady - Celeste - Helios

PKMN Trainer Dawn
Twigsby - Tuxedo - Mesa - Glee - Blue - Crescent

(Stats for mobile users.)

Chapter Text

It's simultaneously a surprise and not one at all, that Cynthia and Dawn are returned to Sinnoh just outside Turnback Cave. Cynthia stumbles, nearly tripping directly into Sendoff Spring before her Garchomp manages to catch her.

"Gaa?" Aster asks, blinking at her in clear concern.

"I-I'm fine. Don't worry about me," Cynthia says, voice shaking. She doesn't move to stop leaning on her dragon, though. "Dawn? Everything okay?"

"Uhh. Yeah." Dawn stares up at the night sky above them. Stars glimmer, and the sky is just beginning to lighten in the east like her namesake. "Did that... really just happen?"

"It did," Cynthia says faintly. It happened and it's over, it's finally over. She goes for her poketch to text Cheryl, except... "Ah."

"What is it now?"

"Nothing! Nothing." Cynthia sucks in a breath. "I just... forgot that my poketch was broken, and I haven't gotten the chance to get a new one yet. Do you think you could call someone still at the Spear Pillar?"

"...sure," Dawn says suspiciously. "Huh. Reception is shit here." She steps a bit further away from the cavern entrance, lights up, and hits a button. "Hey, Barry! Yeah, uh, yeah, we're definitely somewhere else in Sinnoh but what's it looking like up there?"

"No more eldritch portal of death, so I'm counting that as a win," comes Barry's slightly tinny response. "Where ARE you guys?"

"Uhhhhhh." Dawn looks to Cynthia for help.

"Sendoff Spring," Cynthia says. "You wouldn't have heard of it. Normally, you wouldn't be allowed in here unless you had all eight of Sinnoh's gym badges. It's... northwest of Sunyshore?"

Dawn shrugs helplessly. "Yeah. What she said."

"Uhhh. Cool. Wanna meet up in Sunyshore, then? Kick that leader's ASS?"

Dawn snorts. "Yeah, sure. Still gotta throw down with whoever's up in Snowpoint before we can come for the champion's ass, but—"

The actual champion here clears her throat awkwardly and says, "Can you ask Riley and Cheryl to meet me at Lake Valor?"

"Is that... Cynthia?" Barry guesses. There's some audible fumbling with his poketch, and then a muffled holler of, "Hey, NERDS, Cynthia wants you to meet her at Lake Valor." More fumbling, some voices Cynthia can't quite make out in the background, and Barry reports, "Yeah, sure. We'll meet you at Sunyshore, Dawn! You gotta tell me EVERYTHING."

There's an audible click, and Cynthia observes, "You have good friends."

"Ha. Yeah." Dawn lets out a massive yawn and comments, "Comes with the territory of not being a jealous bitch. Breaking news, ma'am, polyamory exists and if you didn't have your head so far up your ass that you couldn't bother communicating maybe that could be a thing."

...yeah, okay, Cynthia deserved that. Both that as a whole and having to think about the logistics of a proposed poly relationship between two separate versions of herself and Cheryl. She takes a deep breath, starts walking, and says, "How I've treated Diana was wrong, and I've apologized to her about it."

"You... have?" Dawn blinks in surprise, and joins her. "Damn. Okay, maybe you aren't as bad as I thought. What did she say?"

"That..." Cynthia looks down, and smiles. "That I might have more of a chance than I thought."

"Oh. Huh. That's kinda gay, actually. And by kinda I mean very."

"...I suppose so," Cynthia says. They emerge from the woods, past the gate that warns anyone without eight badges away from entering the area, and Cynthia turns to Dawn and says, "The hotel is south of here, and Sunyshore is east from there. Good luck."

She climbs onto Aster's back—for as short a distance as this, Aster can fly it—and whispers into the dragon's scales, "Let's go home."

"Garrr," Aster agrees, getting ready to fly. 

Cynthia glances back at Dawn, smiles, and says, "I'll see you at the league."

"Wait, wha—"

Aster soars up into the sky, over Route 214 and north towards Veilstone. And then, after a very quick center run, south towards Lake Valor. The lake's surface is unmarred—if there was a hidden island in the middle like there was in Lake Acuity, it's gone again. (She wonders if Azelf is back yet.)

They land just outside Cynthia's house, where Cynthia dismounts, hugs her dragon like she hasn't been able to for a year—which, not coincidentally, is exactly how long it has been—and sends out the rest of her pokemon, old and new. Corundum's looking better, which is... a relief. 

(Cynthia's been lucky enough to never be responsible for a pokemon's death, her own or that or someone else's. She thinks it might break her if she was.)

But now. She doesn't have an excuse anymore. No more procrastinating, it's high time she explained to all twelve pokemon present what, precisely, happened.

"So," Cynthia says, taking a cross-legged seat on her front lawn. "I owe you all an explanation."

Rascal glances at Banshee and says something quietly. The Spiritomb's disc spins and she says, "̷R̶a̴s̴c̶a̵l̴ ̴w̵o̸u̸l̸d̷ ̶l̵i̷k̴e̵ ̵u̷s̶ ̵t̶o̸ ̶t̴e̷l̷l̷ ̸y̴o̸u̷ ̶t̸h̸a̸t̵ ̷y̷o̵u̷r̴ ̸a̶u̶r̶a̶ ̵f̷e̷e̶l̴s̶ ̷d̶i̴f̶f̴e̸r̵e̵n̵t̵ ̷t̸h̷a̵n̶ ̶i̸t̸ ̵d̶i̶d̷ ̸l̷a̴s̵t̶ ̵n̷i̶g̵h̸t̸.̷"̸

"I'd imagine it does," she says with a snort. "Hopefully a good different. The short version is that I... may have gotten... slightly..." Cynthia clears her throat. "This isn't working. How do I..."

Helios, loafing on the lawn with his little feet tucked underneath him and his spikes relaxed against his body, comments, "Jolteon?"

Whatever he says, it makes all six of her pokemon from before the time loop look at him with visible alarm. Cynthia sighs, rubs her eyes, and asks Banshee, wearily, "What did he say?"

"̷.̵.̵.̸s̶o̸m̷e̵t̸h̴i̷n̶g̵ ̵a̶b̷o̴u̷t̷ ̶t̵i̵m̶e̸ ̷t̵r̷a̸v̷e̵l̵?̴"̷ Banshee comments.

"That's... accurate, at least." Cynthia takes a deep breath and lets it out again. "Um. Aster, you were still out on Mt. Coronet when Cyrus attacked me—"

"Gaarch," Aster agrees, looking worried.

"And you know how I turned back up almost immediately after disappearing"

The Garchomp ducks her head in a nod, looking more worried. 

"That wasn't... entirely what happened on my end." Cynthia grins nervously, as her Togekiss chooses then to deposit himself into her lap. "Hi, Eros—what happened on my end was, I woke up a year in the past and halfway across Sinnoh."

Her Togekiss promptly falls out of her lap with a shocked chirp. Rascal glances at Celeste, eyes flashing blue with the same telltale sign of aura use she's seen more recently with Riley, and whatever Celeste responds with makes him stagger backwards in surprise. Aster looks incredibly concerned, as does Maelstrom—why does he look concerned, he knows this—and the grass around where Rosaceae's sitting is starting to take on a distinctly purplish tinge.

"Miiilo," Coronet croons, sliding without much difficulty across the lawn to wrap her tail around Cynthia's back and plop her head in her lap before Eros can occupy it again. "Looootic."

"So, erm." Cynthia gives up. She gestures to the newer pokemon here and says, "New friends. Please be nice, I am incredibly tired and I will try to answer things... somewhat more coherently later but right now, I need a nap."

She pretty much collapses face-first into her bed, when she finally reaches it—for the first time in a year.

(Half of her pokemon are sprawled across the room and on her bed, by the time she wakes up. The only reason the rest aren't is because twelve pokemon is... a bit much. Maybe she needs a bigger bedroom.)

Chapter Text

What in distortion —and that saying means a lot more now, now that Cynthia's been to the Distortion World herself—is Volkner even doing at this point? That's what Cynthia wants to know. World nearly ended, world didn't end, and he's still not letting allowing people into Sunyshore City because of what is supposedly just some kind of an outage.

Last Cynthia checked, blackouts didn't require shutting down land travel. And fortunately for the sake of whatever Volkner is doing, Cynthia's been rather stretched thin cleaning everything up the day after the world didn't end. Most of Team Galactic had been on Mt. Coronet at the time, and therefore most of Team Galactic is now in Interpol custody.

Including two of the admins.

Unfortunately, by the time the International Police got to Veilstone, the Galactic headquarters there were deserted. No sign of Charon, no sign of Saturn, and—well. Cynthia's told Interpol what Cyrus did, what happened to them.

(She has not told Interpol that she intends to go back to look for them, as soon as the opportunity presents itself. It won't be any of their concern unless she finds them.)

Team Galactic is, by and large, not a problem anymore, and at the very least not Cynthia's problem anymore, and she's quite happy about that. 

Unfortunately, she's still got Volkner to deal with. And now she's got a new poketch.

Cynthia yawns, stretches, and glares up at the sky from where she's sitting outside the old cafe cabin. She glances over at her Garchomp—who's scarcely let her out of her sight since she revealed the full extent of what happened on Mt. Coronet—and comments, "At this point, I'm almost tempted to show up as a challenger just so I'll have an excuse to destroy Volkner in battle."

"Gaarch," Aster comments.

She sighs. "But of course—whatever the situation is there, and if it really is just a blackout Volkner had better have a very good excuse, it's lasted at least a week —there's also the issue that I won't be able to get in, in disguise. We tried that."

Aster makes an inquisitive noise, and Cynthia clarifies, "Cheryl and Riley. They—actually were willing to help me sneak in, if you'd believe that! I'm not sure how well it would have worked, but just the thought was... really nice."

Bobbing her head in agreement, Aster's tail starts thumping against the wall they're both sitting on. Cynthia glances at her new poketch, and murmurs, "Really wish I could have actually met up with them in Sunyshore like I meant to. I'm just glad that my old poketch apparently was backed up."

The Garchomp gives her a look at that. Cynthia laughs, and opens up some old pictures to scroll through them, commenting as she does, "For one thing, it would have been incredibly annoying to have to get everyone's numbers again—for another, it would have truly been a tragedy to lose your baby pictures. See?"

Aster peers in at the picture of a tiny Gible gnawing on a somewhat less tiny Cynthia's arm, huffs derisively, and crosses her arms.

"Aw, I'm sure we've got something better," Cynthia says with a laugh. She keeps scrolling and—oh.

Oh. She'd forgotten she had this picture. It was—of the four of them, in Jubilife, not long after they'd all met. Cheryl's holding baby Eros up to the camera with a massive grin, while Riley's got one arm slung around Cynthia's shoulders and the other around Cyrus and is showing no signs of freeing either of them. Cynthia herself looks a bit... embarrassed, more than anything else.

But Cyrus?

They look like they're laughing. Cynthia blinks hard. She taps a few buttons, and her finger hovers over the delete button.

(She thought she'd deleted every photo with Cyrus in it years ago. Because it hurt too much to think about them, when she believed so firmly for so long that they were dead and she was responsible.)

She shakes her head, sniffles, and exits out of the menu to delete the picture.

"Gar?" Aster asks softly.

"Just... old memories," Cynthia says, taking a deep breath. Before she can change her mind, she sets the picture as her new poketch wallpaper. 

Just in time for someone to tap her on the shoulder, her Blissey trailing behind her, and say, "Hello, Cynthia."

Cynthia takes one look at Cheryl and breaks into a grin. "I'm so glad to see you. Is Riley...?"

"Said he needed to stop in at the pokemart," Cheryl says with a shrug, taking a seat on her other side. "Figured I might as well bring Hope, she doesn't get out much these days. Though, granted, neither do I, but..."

Hope the Blissey gives a cheerful wave, right before picking up a stick and poking her trainer in the shoulder with it.

"...well, I didn't," Cheryl admits. "Can't say I was expecting to go on another journey after so many years. Never mind a second one with you. Though I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been... hoping that our paths would cross again, sometime. Dreaming of it, maybe."

"I'm... still so sorry," Cynthia says, reaching to take both of Cheryl's hands in her own. "I should never have left you behind."

Cheryl shrugs. "I still had Riley? We'd kept in touch? Kind of?"

"I should never have left either of you behind. I'm just..." Cynthia smiles slightly. "Glad we're both here now. Together. Out of curiosity, how similar was our reunion to what you imagined?"

"...the time travel was a surprise."

Cynthia snorts. "If it helps, it was also a surprise to me. Though now that I think about it... I'm... not at all sure how it could not be a surprise to me?"

"Me neither," Cheryl says, giving up on trying to figure that out herself. She looks up at Cynthia, and says, "I... still can't quite believe sometimes that you're here. That you're not just someone I used to know I see on the news, someone who... I honestly thought maybe you'd forgotten about me."

"I could never have forgotten about you." Cynthia leans in close, taking in everything that makes Cheryl Cheryl. And she whispers, "Is... it okay if I kiss you?"

Cheryl's face turns bright pink, and she just stares into Cynthia's eyes for a few seconds, and Cynthia takes that as the no it clearly is and pulls away. Except she laughs, and pulls Cynthia back in, and gently, oh so gently, presses her lips to Cynthia's.

It's very different from Eterna, so many months ago. For one thing, Cynthia isn't doing everything she can to not think about the kiss, back when she was so sure that Cheryl didn't like her and that was perfectly fine and she was just doing this to distract Cyrus from recognizing either of them.

For another, this is her— girlfriend. She has a girlfriend, and it's Cheryl, and gods, if a part of her doesn't want to shout that from the rooftops until everyone in Sinnoh knows that she has the best girlfriend in the world, and it's Cheryl, it’s Cheryl, it’s Cheryl.

And she loves her. She loves her so, so much. How in distortion did she get this lucky?

(Riley shows up about ten minutes later, apologizing profusely. Though really, Cynthia finds she doesn't mind too much.)

Chapter Text

After a few last-ditch efforts to delegate handling Volkner to Flint fail, and Cynthia starts getting formal complaints about people not being able to get into Sunyshore, Cynthia just gives up. She closes the league for the day, hops on her Togekiss, and heads south.

From the air, Sunyshore seems to be okay enough. There's no smoking craters, Volkner's fancy solar panel roads appear to be intact, but Cynthia will admit that she doesn't know all that much about how electronics work.

She is, however, reasonably certain that a blackout is no reason to block city entrances. Which is why, after circling the city one more time to look for any obvious problems—and spotting absolutely nothing —she tells Eros to land outside the gym.

He does so, happily twirling in midair behind her as she walks up to the front door and—perhaps a tad optimistically—tries to open it herself.

Locked. 

Cynthia frowns. She knocks on the gym door, hard.

No response.

She narrows her eyes, cups her hands around her mouth, and hollers, "Volkner, come out or so help me gods—"

"I'm gay," says a weary voice from behind her. 

Cynthia turns to see what might be Volkner and what might be his Electivire, but both are covered in soot and grime like they've been working on something very labor-intensive and hands-on. She's unimpressed.

"So am I, you're not special," Cynthia says without skipping a beat. She briefly revels in the shocked noise Volkner makes. "Well, closer to pan personally, I think? Though there's also... that's hardly the issue here, Volkner, what in distortion are you doing here?"

Volkner opens his mouth and shuts it in a stunning imitation of a large portion of water-dwelling pokemon. "Uhhh. This is my gym?"

"That is not what I meant and you know that fact perfectly well. I've received several reports of trainers being barred entry to Sunyshore City—not just trainers, in fact, but they're the ones that complain to the League—on your orders."

"Yeees?" Volkner says uneasily. He looks at his Electivire and mouths what looks suspiciously like the word help?

"Viiire," the massive pokemon chuffs, decidedly unhelpfully, shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

"Yes," Cynthia echoes. "So it was you that decided to restrict travel in and out of Sunyshore because of a blackout?"

The Sunyshore leader looks at her. Blinks tiredly. Processes this. And then smacks a hand against his head and mutters, "I told him to say something believable, gods dammit."

His Electivire laughs harder, tail-tips flicking back and forth behind him. And Volkner snaps, "Amp, you traitor, this is not funny."

Cynthia's gaze slides over to the Electivire, and then back to his trainer. "So... there's not a blackout."

"Well, there is," Volkner admits. "But if it was just a blackout, well. We have those all the time —"

"Exactly!"

"—so that wouldn't be an issue." Volkner blinks wearily and says, "Just give me like... an hour? I'll have it handled. Hopefully."

"Or," Cynthia says, "you could tell me what's actually going on, and I could help?"

"Well, yeah, but..." Volkner throws his hands up in the air. "What the fuck, you can't make it worse. I need more coffee but the short version is: gym's haunted."

She opens her mouth. Shuts it. (She really thought that after literal distortion nothing could surprise her. That had lasted maybe a week.)

"I'm sorry. What?"

"Gym's haunted," Volkner repeats. His Electivire nods seriously beside him. "Listen, most places in the city keep their own generators on hand for blackouts—"

The blackouts you cause, you mean, Cynthia thinks but resists the urge to out and say. He'd probably cause more out of spite somehow.

"—so my usual place is still open. You want some? Least I can do is treat ya after making you come all this way."

Cynthia snorts. "I certainly won't turn down free coffee. But I do want that explanation."

Unfortunately, Volkner steadfastly refuses to give said explanation before they've returned to the gym, Cynthia still nursing the fifteenth-best cup of coffee she's ever had. And then he says, "Alright, so it started ... a while ago, now that I think about it. Years, probably. Could not tell you how many, sorry, and at first I thought it was just... well, not a ghost, that's for sure. Something I would have sworn I left one place disappears for a while or turns up somewhere entirely different. Someone was always stealing snacks from the mini fridge and no one would fess up, and then when I set up a camera to catch the culprit in action, it always glitched out at just the wrong time. And—"

"Okay, you've had a ghost problem for a while," Cynthia says, holding up a hand to stop him. "But none of this warrants..."

"I'm getting to that! I swear!" Volkner groans. "How we figured out we had a ghost problem was a lot more recent. Maybe a month before the Galactic Incident? I've got no idea what changed, except that people started getting attacked, their pokemon would get attacked, and the ghost started... I dunno. My machines had been getting less and less efficient for a while, and in retrospect that probably wasn't just them getting old. They've been sucking up more and more power lately. Sometimes it attacks with ghost moves, sometimes by turning my own gym against me, and I figured it would be best to close the gym until I had a chance to figure out a better solution."

"...okay." Cynthia's starting to get a headache. "Closing the gym makes sense then, yes, but why—"

"Oh, it was attacking people via the electricity system," Volkner elaborates.

"It was what."

"I shut off the city's power to keep it occupied with the gym," Volkner says, not elaborating.

Cynthia pinches the bridge of her nose and says, "Alright, just—you said it's a ghost. Ghost-type pokemon?"

Volkner nods. "Don't think it's electric, though, it was always careful to avoid actually getting shocked, I'd guess it was just using what was available to it and, well. My gym. Lots of electricity to work with. Lots of useful shit." He waves a hand dismissively. "Resourceful bastard."

"Alright. Well... if it's a ghost-type, I'm sure I can scare it off," Cynthia says. Her hand finds Banshee's pokeball. "And then you can reopen your gym, and we can both forget that this ever happened. Sound good?"

"Yeah. Sure." Volkner lets out a heavy sigh. "Can you do me a favor? Don't tell Flint about this, he will never let me hear the end of it."

She considers this. And then promises, "I won't if he doesn't ask."

Chapter Text

So. The Sunyshore Gym is quite literally haunted, and in future, Cynthia would really prefer to be informed of this before it becomes this massive of an issue. But there is something to be said for Volkner at least trying to solve the problem on his own—even if he clearly hasn't been very successful on his own—and honestly. Cynthia's not that mad.

At least he'd halted traffic into Sunyshore for a good reason, and not for something as ridiculous as just a blackout. Cynthia would have had quite a few things to say to him in that case, none of them good, all of them exasperated. Though...

Something occurs to her, and Cynthia says suddenly, "If you've known that you have a ghost problem, why didn't you call Fantina?"

"I... did," Volkner replies with a nervous grin. "She was busy every time I called her and while I finally got through a couple of days ago, she said she wouldn't be able to come handle it until the weekend, and—" He pitches his voice higher in a very poor imitation of Hearthome's leader. "—your Luxray knows Crunch, non?"

Cynthia raises an eyebrow. "Does your Luxray know Crunch?"

"Yes! But that's not the issue, this thing always manages to know where we're coming from and just—dodges, or disappears, or one time, it dropped a box of wrenches on my head!"

"A box of wrenches," Cynthia repeats, the eyebrow raising higher. "Aren't those usually made of metal? How many—are you okay?"

"Yes, twenty or thirty in different sizes, and that's debatable, honestly," Volkner answers with a nonchalant shrug. "No less okay than usual? Dunno how you're expecting me to answer that—"

Well then. She's starting to think that maybe she should be dragging Volkner to the hospital, not strong-arming him into reopening his gym. He doesn't look concussed, or if he does that's just how he always looks, which raises even more concerns that Cynthia is going to make, collectively, a post-ghost problem.

She clears her throat and says, "That's not so bad, we just need to distract it. I've got my Spiritomb—"

Volkner actually shudders. "Oh gods. Respectfully, ma'am, fuck that thing."

"They're perfectly nice outside of battle," Cynthia says cheerfully. 

"Of course, but I had to battle that —"

Cynthia grins and sends out Banshee, the Spiritomb fully materializing from their keystone to match her expression with a significantly more shit-eating one. Banshee's 'face' flickers over to Volkner with interest, and she says, "̸G̵r̷e̸e̵t̶i̶n̷g̵s̸,̷ ̵t̸a̷m̸e̵r̴ ̴o̵f̷ ̷t̵h̶u̴n̸d̷e̴r̸.̸"̷

"—thing. Hi." Volkner rubs the back of his neck and mutters, "Tamer of thunder, huh? I actually kinda like that, not gonna lie."

"See? She's perfectly nice," Cynthia says, like people don't tend to get massive headaches after listening to her Spiritomb speak for too long. "Volkner, would you mind acting as a distraction?"

"Yes." He sighs. "What do you want me to do?"

"Act like you're going in with—your Luxray knows Crunch, I'd go with him. I need you to act like you're going in alone and you intend to drive this ghost out—"

"̸C̶o̴u̵l̸d̷ ̶i̴t̷ ̴n̸o̴t̵ ̸b̶e̵ ̷a̵ ̸m̸i̶s̵u̷n̸d̶e̸r̵s̵t̵a̷n̷d̸i̸n̵g̶?̵"̵ Banshee comments absently, disc swirling slower.

"It could be," Cynthia admits, "but—"

"How in distortion would I misunderstand wrenches. Dropped. On my head," Volkner protests.

"I doubt distortion would help with that," Cynthia says offhandedly.

"...the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

Cynthia blinks. "Have you checked the news lately?"

"Not sure if you noticed!" Volkner gestures emphatically at the gym's locked front door. "But I've got a bit of a situation here, how lately are we talking about?"

"Never mind." He'll figure it out eventually, one way or another. "Are you okay to act as a distraction? Or—"

"Yeah, I'm fine, don't worry about it," he says dismissively, and Cynthia strongly doubts his fineness now but that's a problem she can solve by throwing Flint at him later. "Distraction. Got it. So... act like you're not here?"

Cynthia nods without a word.

"That's... great." Volkner's growing grimace seems to say otherwise. "Cynthia. I mean this in the nicest way possible. But. You're not exactly... sneaky?"

That's it, she's dressing up as 'Diana' again just to prove him wrong. Later. But she forces something closer to a grimace of her own than a smile and says, "You might just be surprised. Are we going to do this now or not?"

"Now works fine." He sends out his Luxray, who rubs up against his leg with a loud purr, and pulls a lanyard with more keys than Cynthia can quickly count out of a pocket. Humming to himself, he sorts through the keys before eventually coming up with one with a lightning bolt stenciled into it, turns the lock into the door, and steps inside. "Let's go, Leo."

Leo chuffs an agreement and pads after his trainer. Cynthia looks down at Banshee. The Spiritomb looks up at her.

"̵W̵e̷ ̶a̴s̸s̸u̷m̵e̵ ̵y̶o̸u̵ ̵d̵o̵ ̴h̵a̶v̴e̷ ̵a̵ ̸p̵l̵a̸n̷?̷"̵ She says eventually.

"Of course I do, what do you take me for?" Cynthia rolls her eyes. "Not sneaky, huh? I'll show him not sneaky—"

"̶A̸ ̸p̷l̷a̴n̶ ̵r̶e̸g̵a̷r̶d̴i̷n̵g̸ ̴t̷h̶e̶ ̷h̸a̶u̷n̶t̴i̶n̸g̸,̸"̵ Banshee clarifies.

"Ah." Cynthia pauses. "Yes."

The disc swirls, and Banshee clarifies further, "̵.̵.̴.̵a̸ ̵p̶l̷a̵n̴ ̶o̶f̵ ̶a̸t̷t̶a̸c̵k̸?̸"̷

"Yes...? We get in there, and we hit them hard enough that they decide to haunt somewhere else."

The Spiritomb sounds distinctly unimpressed when she says, "̷S̴o̶ ̸t̷h̷e̸ ̸p̵l̵a̶n̷ ̴i̵s̵,̸ ̴s̴i̷m̸p̵l̸y̵,̷ ̸t̴o̸ ̸a̶t̵t̷a̸c̶k̶.̷"̷

"Yes? And what's wrong with that?"

A sound escapes her that sounds like several voices laughing in almost-unison. She shakes her disc in a manner reminiscent of a human shaking their head and says, "̸N̶o̴t̸h̷i̶n̸g̸ ̷a̸t̵ ̶a̶l̸l̶.̸ ̵I̶t̶ ̶i̶s̷ ̷m̵e̸r̵e̴l̸y̵ ̷s̸u̴c̶h̷ ̷a̶.̵.̵.̵ ̵y̸o̷u̵ ̵r̷e̵s̶p̴o̸n̵s̸e̶.̵"̵

"I'm going to take that as a compliment," Cynthia decides.

"̶Y̷o̵u̷ ̴d̸o̷ ̴t̸h̷a̵t̸.̸"̵ Banshee pauses. "̴S̸h̶a̸l̶l̴ ̴w̷e̵ ̴f̴o̶l̴l̶o̴w̴?̷"̸

"It's probably been long enough," Cynthia decides. Pink psychic energy surrounds Banshee's keystone as the Spiritomb launches herself through the open doorway, not waiting a second longer, and Cynthia shrugs and follows her.

(In the end, it's extremely anticlimactic. By the time Cynthia gets in there, the pokemon—a Froslass of all things, how did one of those end up at the warmest place in mainland Sinnoh—is facing off against Volkner and his Luxray, back turned to her. A single hit from Banshee is enough to make the ghost fade away into nothingness, and hopefully by the time she reforms, she'll have second thoughts about haunting the Sunyshore Gym again.)

"...y'know," Volkner remarks afterwards, his face buried in his Luxray's furry ruff, "I wasn't expecting a Froslass. I don't actually think it used a single ice move. Ever."

"That's... weird," Cynthia comments. "Must have been some trainer's pokemon, though I'd have several things to say if I could find them. Otherwise... how would a wild Froslass get here?"

Volkner shrugs. "Dunno. Don't really care. Think she'll take the hint?"

Cynthia sighs, and seriously considers getting more coffee. "If she doesn't, call me before it gets this bad. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a job to do."

He snorts, glancing up from his Luxray as she makes for the door. "Things stay slow enough around here, you might be seeing me again soon."

"Maybe," Cynthia says, as Leo paws impatiently at his trainer for more cuddles. "I'll be seeing you."

Far sooner than he thinks, that's for sure.

Chapter Text

Given that Cynthia is reasonably certain, at this point, that Volkner needs to pay a visit to the local hospital before even thinking about reopening the Sunyshore Gym, her plans involving challenging said gym in disguise end up getting put slightly on hold. It ends up taking another week—another week of business as usual at the Pokemon League, facing down challengers who genuinely think they'll be taking her title when they walk in and are summarily proven very wrong—before Cynthia makes it back to Sunyshore in the guise of the perfectly normal pokemon trainer Diana.

There are a few reasons for this. The first, if not necessarily the most important, is that 'Diana' has seven badges and Cynthia just isn't about to leave it there. Also, she hasn't gotten around to figuring out the paperwork to transfer her newer team members to her... from also her... because time travel is ridiculous and she never wants to deal with anything like this