Alain took one look at the apprehension on Ash's face and decided he didn't like this "Riley" character.
"Who are you?" Alain said, stepping forward, placing him before Ash and Pikachu. Charmeleon had followed him, growling.
"I'm Riley and this is my partner Lucario," Riley said, looking amused. "We met Ash back in Sinnoh. I would like a private conversation with him."
"Alain, it's fine," Ash said, reaching out. "I'm just surprised to see him. Could you keep an eye on the Pokemon Egg?"
Alain looked back at him. "Are you sure?" he asked quietly.
Ash nodded. "Yeah. It's fine."
Alain still didn't like it. If this was really a friend, Ash wouldn't look so apprehensive. Lucario held out the Pokemon Egg for Alain to take. Alain gently picked it up, cradling it in his arms. "Okay," he said.
He trusted Ash.
Under normal circumstances, Ash would have been thrilled to see Riley. But there was something hovering just beyond Ash's senses that told him he really wasn't going to like what Riley had to say.
"I thought you were helping Professor Carolina," Ash said, not quite looking Riley in the eye. Pikachu pressed closed to Ash, the soft buzz of electricity, his own tension humming in Ash's ear.
"This was more important," Riley said. "And I think you know why I'm here."
Ash tensed further.
"How long have you been able to use Aura, Ash?" Riley asked as gently as he could.
Ash felt his heart drop, stomach clenching. Yes, this was exactly what he was trying to avoid.
"It was hard to notice last time, with all the trouble Team Galactic was causing," Riley continued. "At first, I thought you were someone who just had the capability for Aura. But when I stopped to think about it, you shouldn't have been able to stop Lucario's attack if you were someone who was clueless about Aura."
Ash weighed his options. There was… a lot... What could he explain, what would Riley believe?
He looked to the side where Alain and Iris were waiting with worried faces. Part of him felt so guilty. Like Brock, Misty, May, Max, and Dawn, they were going to sooner than later end up in some sort of crazy trouble because of him, because of his life.
"I became aware of Aura about a year and half ago," Ash said. "I was… at Rota Kingdom for their tournament."
"The Legend of Sir Aaron," Riley said.
Ash tried hard not to flinch. "I can't do what you can do, like forming barriers." Not without Sir Aaron's gloves. "And… I don't know much about Aura." Because the only one who could have taught him then died saving Ash. His heart constricted tight at the thought of Lucario, dying and fading, Aura spent.
"Why didn't you ask me?" Riley asked.
Ash stared up at him in horror, the words unable to form.
"You don't have to tell me," Riley said quickly, recognizing Ash's expression.
Ash closed his eyes. He didn't even like thinking about Rota, about the legend of the Chosen One, about how Aura, Aura Guardians were mostly likely his new reality, about his fear that one day he would be exactly like Sir Aaron, a legend, a myth, a martyr. He could accept running into legendaries everywhere he went, could accept time travel, and the fact that his desire to help people often ended in world saving scenarios. He could not accept the idea that the fate of the world rested on his existence.
He was just Ash. Just a boy from Pallet Town with a lofty dream to be a Pokemon Master.
He helped people because he wanted to. Not because some prophecy said so.
Pikachu pressed a comforting paw to Ash's cheek. "Pikapi," Pikachu said. Ash.
Ash placed a hand on Pikachu, grounding himself against his partner. "Why exactly are you here, Riley?" Ash asked quietly, trying not to the feel the weight of the world pressing down on his shoulders.
"Several months ago, shortly after Professor Caroline wrapped up her initial assessment, Celebi appeared," Riley said. "And she told me I need to get off my butt and teach you how to use your Aura."
"I guess if Celebi is involved, there's no more running," Ash said miserably.
Riley reached out to squeeze Ash's shoulder. "For what it's worth Ash, I am sorry. This kind of thing should be a choice. I ran into Cynthia and she told me what happened with Team Galactic. It's not something you should be forced into."
"Yet it's something that keeps happening," Ash said.
"Well… there's a reason why I secluded myself to Iron Island," Riley said.
Ash blinked. "Really?" Did Riley have the same eventful life as him?
"Hazard of being an Aura Guardian," Riley said. "I may not have been taking down evil organizations like Team Galactic at your age, but there's a fair share of legendaries who have visited."
"And I resisted for a long time about becoming an Aura Guardian. It took the Lake Guardians dropping me in Lucario Kingdom, throwing Lucario who was a Riolu at the time, and a box of Aura texts to get me to consider it," Riley said with a slight blush.
Ash smiled wryly. Well there was some comfort in that.
"The best defense is a good offense," Riley said. "What do you say about letting me teach out the finer points of Aura? I promise to be a better teacher than waiting for some legendaries to chuck a box of Aura texts at you."
"Pika-pi chu. Pikapi ka chuu," Pikachu said. Might be for the best. Ash hates reading.
"Riley wasn't very receptive to reading either," Lucario said.
Ash froze. "I'm pretty sure I heard Lucario say actual words," he said weakly.
Riley laughed. "Yes, we finally got that working. It turns out that all the legendaries who aren't psychic use Aura to speak to us humans. Not just legendaries either, any Pokemon can, but legendaries are usually the ones with the time and ability to learn to do so."
Like Shaymin, like Manaphy, like Arceus.
Ash groaned. "That makes so much sense now."
He sighed, looking back Alain and Iris. They both look like they were a hair trigger away from storming over.
"What should I tell them?" Ash asked. Alain… Alain would probably be okay with it, given everything so far. Iris might not be. They were… just too new to really know.
"Well if they're open to learning, they can learn with you," Riley said.
"W-what?" Ash said. He hadn't expected that answer.
"The boy-" "Alain." "-Alain, he's brimming with potential, enough that a small nudge will waken his ability," Riley said.
"The girl-" "Iris." "-Iris, not as much. It's much deeper for her, so she will take longer, but still a possibility."
"That would be nice," Ash said wistfully. He hoped they were willing to learn. It would be nice. He wouldn't feel so much like a freak if they were learning too.
"Then it's settled," Riley said. "I'll be traveling with you until I feel you can continue on your own. I assume you're doing a Gym Run here?"
Ash nodded. "Yeah."
"I won't stop you from doing that. So I'll teach you and your friends on the road," Riley said. He smiled. "Congratulations on your performance at League by the way. Very few people understand exactly how difficult it is to beat a legendary in one-on-one combat and it took two legendaries to stop you from winning Sinnoh's League."
True… but it certainly didn't feel that way. Ash gave him a weak smile. "Thank you."
"Ash! Your Pokemon Egg!" Iris called out.
Ash turned to see the Egg brightly flashing in Alain's arms.
"Go on," Riley said. "Go greet the newest member to your family. We can talk more later."
Right. Ash took a deep breath and focused. He had a new Pokemon to greet to the world. He could worry about the rest later.
"My what an active Pokemon, your newest family membering turned out to be," Riley said, amused.
"He's going to be a handful," Ash said with a weak chuckle. Just after hatching, Scraggy had attempted to headbutt everyone, including Ash, multiple times.
Lucario had scooped up Scraggy and was giving the newly hatched Pokemon tips. Whatever the subject was, it was riveting enough that the rest of Ash's Pokemon, Axew and Alain's Tepig were all listening.
"So who exactly are you?" Iris asked, looking at Riley.
Alain glared at Riley. He still didn't like this guy. Ash's reaction suggested there was nothing good about him. Next to him, Charmeleon let out a low growl.
"You're very protective," Riley said with good cheer.
Alain mentally sputtered. What was that supposed to mean?
"I think you're far too amused by all of this," Ash said. "This is Riley. Riley, this is Alain and his partner Charmeleon. One of the Tepigs is also his. And this is Iris. Axew is her Pokemon."
"Nice to meet you," Riley said. "Lucario and I met Ash in Sinnoh where he and his friends helped us with an issue."
"But why are you here?" Alain asked.
"Two reasons," Riley said. "Lucario and I are looking for the matching set to a special stone and to teach Ash Aura."
"Aura…?" Alain asked. What was that?
"Aura is the essence of every living creature. You could call it a lifeforce," Riley said. "Every human and Pokemon has Aura. Aura has many capabilities, including but not limiting to, the ability to sense other Auras, view surroundings, even through objects, highly sensitive empathy and projection of one's Aura."
"And Ash has this?" Iris asked, skeptical.
"Every living creature," Riley repeated. "Not only Ash, but you as well Iris. Alain and Charmeleon too. It just so happens that back in Sinnoh, I realized that Ash had the potential to take it a step further."
"A step further?" Alain asked. "You're not surprised by all of this, Ash?"
Ash smiled wryly. "I've been aware of this, though I couldn't tell you the technical terms."
"You can divide Aura Users into four categories," Riley said. "The first is Aura Capable. This is majority of people in the world. Their Aura is too weak to use or only capable of using under certain circumstances.
"The second is Locked Aura User. These people have ability to use Aura, they're just mostly unaware of what Aura is. They sometimes manifest the abilities of the next stage despite being unaware of Aura, but it's usually under specific cases.
"The third is Passive Aura User. These people use Aura's passive abilities regularly, even if they aren't aware of what Aura is.
"The last is Active Aura User. They have the ability to project their Aura on top of the passive abilities. These people are definitely aware of Aura because you need a deeper understanding of Aura to get to this stage."
Riley looked at the three of them. "We have perfect examples here. Iris, you're an example of Aura Capable. Alain, you're a Locked Aura user. Ash is a Passive Aura User and I'm an Active Aura User."
Alain blinked. What.
"Like I said, everyone in the world is capable of using Aura. Those who aren't there are usually reasons like due to age, but there are exceptions," Riley explained. "For example, it's been noted that Ghost Pokemon often have difficulties with Aura, but it's not a hard rule."
"And that's where I am," Iris said, tone still skeptical. "What did you mean under certain circumstances?"
"Life or death circumstances is usually the most cited example," Riley said.
He looked at Alain. "Locked Aura Users are usually found in strong Trainers. For example…" Riley leaned over to whisper something in Charmeleon's ear.
"What's my favorite color, Alain?" Riley asked.
Charmeleon gave Riley a puzzled look, but tugged on Alain's jacket. "Char charmeleon leon." Riley said his favorite color is purple.
"...Purple?" Alain asked. He thought that was what Charmeleon was saying.
"Correct," Riley said with a smile. "Your bond with Charmeleon is excellent."
What. Alain felt his head spin. He had never heard of Aura before and sure, he had always gotten the general gist of Charmeleon's words before, but how was that Aura?
"Usually the phenomenon people witness between Trainers and the way it slowly becomes easier for them to understand their Pokemon is actually Aura at work. It usually evolves from a strong bond, of sharing experiences and time together that builds it. Strong Trainers will build that kind of rapport with their teams, so it's honestly not surprising to know people like Champions, the Elite Four, more experienced Gym Leaders are some of the most likely people to be found in this group," Riley said. He looked over at Ash. "Your friend Brock is another one who falls into this group."
Ash hummed. "Oh? That's interesting."
"If they manifest any of Aura abilities, it's usually limited to their team," Riley said. "High enough empathy to understand their Pokemon on almost a speaking level is the most common ability that manifest."
"It isn't being so familiar with body language and other personality quirks?" Alain asked, brain still trying to wrap itself around the concept.
"Some of it is," Riley said. "It's usually how humans who aren't Trainers that bond so closely with Pokemon do it."
"But why the distinction for Trainers?" Alain asked.
"Because Aura can be strengthened and trained," Riley said. "Trainers and Pokemon do it naturally thanks to our society setup. Pokemon battles aren't just two Pokemon fighting against each other, we wouldn't need Trainers if that was the case. No, Pokemon Battles are two-on-two battles, Pokemon and Trainer against Pokemon and Trainer. Every Pokemon Battle you have, strengthened your and your Pokemon's Aura. It's why some people say the mark of a good partnership is how in sync a Trainer and their Pokemon is together."
That was at least an argument Alain had heard before. Sometimes, especially those who weren't Battle Trainers in particular, would often ask what was the point of Pokemon Battles. Why fight for the sake of fighting? Why fight for the sake of getting "stronger"? They didn't really understand and Alain could never really explain his own personal feelings for it.
"There are more classical ways to train your Aura," Riley said. "But like I said, a natural growth can simply be found in a Pokemon Battle."
That was really interesting. Was that why so many people found joy in battling? Alain had said there was nothing wrong with the way Iris wanted to raise Axew, but the concept of 'little by little' had rubbed him the wrong way. Because like Ash had said, the best battles were the ones you and your Pokemon threw everything into it, reaching beyond your limits. But was that simply Aura at work?
"The difference between Passive Aura Users and Locked Aura Users is simply scope and range," Riley said. "They're not limited to just their Pokemon team for example, but instead can understand the feelings of every Pokemon they encounter. Majority of the Passive Aura Users, especially those unaware of Aura, awoken their ability by coming into contact with high concentration of Aura and have subconsciously continued to use it."
"Ash?" Alain asked, looking at him.
Ash shrugged helplessly. "I can understand all of our Pokemon? It's how I knew your Tepig didn't want to fight. Pikachu I understand the best and sometimes the others, like Oshawott speak too fast, but yeah…"
"Pikapi chuu pi," Pikachu said. You worry too much, Ash.
Charmeleon blinked, surprised. "Char-char meleon! Char leon." That's how he knew! Pikachu only said his name.
Alain didn't catch any of Charmeleon's intended meaning here.
Ash on the other hand laughed. "Yes, that's exactly how."
Charmeleon had a thoughtful look. "Charmeleon le?" Tell Alain I want spicy curry for dinner?
Ash blinked. "Alain, Charmeleon wants spicy curry for dinner?"
Still reeling in shock, Alain could nodded. "Sure."
"That's so cool. Aura let's you understand Pokemon?" Iris said excitedly. "I'll be able to understand Axew?"
"Eventually," Riley said. "It takes a lot of time and practice. Words are a bit harder and a sign of how much Aura Ash actually has."
"And the last stage?" Alain asked.
"How familiar are you with Lucario and their moves?" Riley asked.
"Like Aura Sphere?" Alain asked. "Oh. Lucario are examples of what Aura looks like."
Riley nodded. "Yes. As a species, Lucario and Riolu are capable of manifesting Aura and using all of its passive abilities. Humans are rarely able to project their Aura like Lucario and Riolu, but -" he lifted his hand, spinning a small Aura Sphere in his palm, "- there are a few that can."
Alain tried to pull it all together in his head. Aura. That wasn't so completely unbelievable. They lived in a world with psychics being just the tip of the iceberg of humans outside of norms. Mega Evolution had been nothing but a myth until Professor Sycamore started putting together stories. (Even then they still didn't know what caused Mega Evolution to resurface after fading away into history centuries ago). There were so many things unknown in this world to brush it off as a hoax. It was a possibility.
If nothing else, Lucario and Riolu were physical proof of Aura. Alain had looked into once, wondering what had made a Lucario special to be the first Mega Evolution. Lucario's abilities were well documented, but Alain couldn't remember why Lucario's abilities were called Aura or where the name for Aura had come from.
He had seen enough to know it was at least plausible.
Where he was stumbling on was where Ash had fitted into this equation.
Ash had Aura… but what did it mean? And Ash had been aware since before Sinnoh so it wasn't something new, something Alain had unknowingly changed.
Was that the explanation for Ash's bond with Greninja? Aura?
His head hurt and Alain didn't know enough to put it together, and never would. It was going to be a mystery for the rest of eternity, unless by some chance, Alain hadn't changed enough that Ash would still met the same Froakie, still did whatever Ash had done to make that strange bond with Greninja and...
"Alain?" Ash asked quietly.
Alain blinked. He smiled crookedly. "So you have Aura."
Ash gave him a curious look. "Yeah." "Is that okay?" went unasked.
Alain maveled at the fact that they had become close enough friends, that Alain was understanding what Ash wasn't asking.
"Yes," Alain said firmly. Ash was Ash. Aura was just another piece of the puzzle that made up Ash.
Wait. If Aura was highly sensitive empathy, was Alain understanding Ash's unasked question because of Aura? How did that work?
His head hurt.
Ash smiled. "Thanks," he said.
The commotion broke their conversation and everyone turned to see their Pokemon fleeing out the forest. Lucario had his hands full with Scraggy; the others hot on his tail.
"Lucario?" Riley asked.
"Hoard of Galvantula! Scraggy is hurt!"
Then crashing out behind the Pokemon came a swarm of Galvantula.
Alain jumped to his feet; Charmeleon already rushing forward. "Charmeleon, Flame Burst!"
Pikachu jumped off of Ash's shoulder, high into the air.
Fire and electricity crashed into the swarm of Galvantula. They turned back around and fled back into the forest.
"Is everyone alright?" Iris asked, rushing forward.
Lucario held out Scraggy. "He has paralysis."
"I can fix that," Iris said. She turned, stopped and turned back to look at Lucario. "Wait, did you just speak human words?"
Oh. So Alain wasn't imagining it either.
"Scraggy are you okay?" Ash asked worried.
"Ask later, Iris," Riley said. "If you would please go fetch what you need. Scraggy will need it."
"Right, right. Come on Axew!" Iris said.
Alain pulled out his first aid kit. "If she can't find what's she looking for, we still have a Full Restore we can use. I'll start with your Cheri Berries too; see if they can help."
Ash nodded, looking relieved that they had a backup plan. "Right. We'll wait and see I guess."
Yeah. Alain nodded.
Scraggy first. Wonder about Aura later.
Ash tucked a blanket around Scraggy. It looked like the paralysis has finally worn off and Scraggy was finally resting peaceful. Iris' medicine had worked wonders.
"He's going to be a handful," Alain said, kneeling down on the other side of Scraggy.
"Yeah," Ash said. "That's okay."
He glanced over to Riley and Iris and felt a wave of trepidation rise up in the back of this throat. His shoulders hunched. There would be no more running from this it seemed.
"Ash?" Alain asked.
Just breathe, smile, and let it go.
Keep moving forward.
Ash and Pikachu's Crazy Life: 8 vs Alain: 2
Aura explains so much of Ash's idiosyncrasies that I was sad that we don't ever see it anymore. So here are a bunch of my headcanons for Aura. lol
Also a shoutout to LadyTeldra for leaving me such a beautiful review. It gave me the motivation to post the chapter.
On a related note, please stop asking if I abandoned this fic or when I'm going to update next. I've tried to post this chapter three times and every time I had the energy to do so, I got a review asking for the next chapter and that just... saps the energy. This fic is still be worked on, and its update schedule is to the whims of the plunny and my energy levels okay?
Please leave a review on your way out.