Leo Hanson glanced up from the garden to the many puffy white clouds drifting lazily across the late-morning sky. The previous days' rains helped a lot in promoting vigorous growth of all the plants, including weeds. Indeed, after being unable to get into the garden after two solid days, weeds were everywhere. But so were the ripe vegetables and fruits.
Setting the last few turnips in the overflowing woven basket, he mentally thanked Kangason yet again for taking care of things while they had been gone. Then with the tired sigh of a good morning's work (and sore back), lifted the quite weighted basket and headed inside, kicking muddy shoes off at the door.
Both his wife and Ruby glanced from the table, where Sally was brushing Ruby's long yellow and red mane with a brush. So someone had just got out from their home-made shower, and it could have been a scene like in any house: one woman helping another with her hair. Except they were not on Earth and Ruby was an infernape.
"I guess we'll be cooking today," Sally remarked. "Looks like lots of turnips there."
"Turn...ips?" Ruby asked with raised brow ridge. Then with an infernape smile across her red face: "I can't wait to try them! What do they taste like?"
"Something between potatoes and squash, but slightly bitter if not cooked right," Sally answered.
It'd been nearly a month since they returned from Arceus's ancient home planet, and much to his initial chagrin, Ruby had campaigned (effectively) to stay with him and Sally. At least until they had a home for her. Which wasn't going with his swampert counterpart and Lonny, apparently. On a related note, he wondered again how Blaze was getting on there in Sharpedo Bluff with Lonny there and all. Three could be a crowd…four with Chip. But he'd learned a while ago not to discount the bond between the swampert and infernape; even a mate for one or both would not sever it.
Hefting the basket to the kitchen counter, he started washing them in the waiting large bowl of water, getting most the dirt off before rinsing them in a second. It was a well-practiced routine that effectively made anything they picked ready for eating, sans cooking. Soon two additional set of hands were on either side of him, one light tan like his, the other blue with pale yellow hair on their backside, and he soon caught a whiff of something flowery from the blue-hand side. Apparently someone used scented soap when washing her mane...and probably the rest of her haired body. As if super clean and shiny, her flame-resembling mane was shimmering as if it really was made of fire. Overall, her physical appearance had improved greatly since they rescued her, and it was good to see verses the nearly dead state in which they found her.
If anything had remained constant though, it was she still behaved as if she were human, the depth of which only becoming more apparent over the last month. From doing normal chores, sitting, walking, to her very habits and manners, it was clear how she was raised. Less clear was how much the unknown amount of human DNA in her makeup was influencing that. In fact, if he closed his eyes he could easily picture her as a human…which could make for some uncomfortable situations.
Still, he didn't feel hurried to begin construction on a house for her; she was for the most part behaving herself. There was also the issue of where to build it. Most of Treasure Town's Pokémon thought they should build an addition to their house. Granted, the extra space would be nice, but didn't serve the primary purpose of gaining distance.
A worry for another time. Today was a perfect day, and he was still glad to be home as he sighed contently, taking a potato from Sally for some peeling since the turnips were finished. Besides, Ruby was still adjusting to everything; the infernape didn't act entirely comfortable yet, and he knew she was still grieving over the loss of her human mother and friends. Going forward in time thousands of years had to create the same effect as losing all your loved ones at once! Every so often, he found her wiping a tear from her face, although she always brightened when she found him watching her.
At the moment she looked happy enough to be slicing up the peeled potatoes. Happy enough that a certain tail was wrapping itself around his one calf. He felt tempted to lightly hit her with a cucumber, but decided against it in the face of a certain distraction. From his other side, Sally kept bumping her shoulder against him. "What?" finally asking with a smile.
"Nothing," she grinned.
Which he had at some point learned was the complete opposite of what she wanted later. OK, so they would need to find a way to get Ruby out of the house that evening. Something he was sure his counterpart could arrange. After all, they'd already taken in Blaze and Chip a night or two... (Which also allowed Ruby to be introduced to the game "It's Get the Mudkip Time", he remembered somewhat wickedly.)
At first he thought it telepathy when there was a knock at the door, and on opening found his swampert counterpart standing there!
"Palkia is here," his counterpart quickly said in Poké speech. "It's time."
His breath caught for an instant before calling Sally and Ruby and getting his hat and other pair of shoes on. "Any hint what this is about yet?" as they set out for Sharpedo Bluff. The day Palkia brought them back to the Poké world, the space-regulating Pokémon said he would return sometime to take them somewhere, as part of another gift. All he said was it was related to what he and Arceus talked about.
The swampert shook his head. "Not that Blaze and Lonny and I haven't tried already." Then a moment later: "Any news from Earth yet?"
It was his turn to shake his head.
Sally verbalized it: "Absolutely nothing; radio's been silent. We might need to ask Palkia for a favor while he's here."
"If Basil is in charge, we might not be very welcomed," cautioning his wife. Although if they had Palkia with them, getting back wouldn't be an issue at least.
"I very much want to know how Chalesti is doing," the swampert commented with a certain lament.
And Ticonamo, George and Naomi, Leo added mentally. "I doubt very much they would hurt a Pokémon," hoping to ease his counterpart's mind…and his. Really, according to his counterpart's story, they all owed Chalesti a great deal.
It only took only moments to reach Treasure Town. Like every other time since they returned and walked through the Pokémon settlement, it felt like a thick veil had been removed in being able to understand all the Pokémon who both lived and visited there. Like the snivy, mildly swearing in struggling to place a heavy-looking bag on the counter at Duskull's Bank with its vines, or Electivire explaining about the energies of an attack to one of the ursaring twins. In passing, he noticed the large yellow electric type wink an eye at them…realizing in a second it was for Ruby.
The female infernape apparently didn't even see it, looking opposite toward Chansey's Day Care as her tail wrapped partly around herself.
Although she had become comfortable around his swampert counterpart, Blaze and Sceptile, it was taking her a while to warm up to everyone else. Except for Chansey. That sweet Pokémon had been making a real effort to make Ruby feel at home. And not just the female infernape. Having helped watched Chip while they had been gone, she seemed the most happy of any of the town's folk to see them back, even going as far as making a special meal for all of them.
"Smell that?" Sally suddenly asked, raising her nose slightly in the midst of a deep inhale.
Taking a sniff, the familiar aroma instantly hit as they passed the day care. "Oran-apple pie." His mouth began watering instantly at the memory of the dessert Chansey had made for the special welcome-back meal. Both sweet and tart beyond words, it seemed she was making it again!
"I know what we're going to be buying when we get back," Sally smirked. "We've got plenty of veggies to trade."
He could only nod. "Might take a few though." Pies required some type of crust, which meant wheat or some other seed-producing grass to make it. And that was expensive to acquire on the Poké world. Just like cloth, he thought in glancing at Ruby's new shorts and primitive half-top they had to make for her. "Next trip to Earth, we're bringing some wheat seeds back."
She seemed to get his connection in nodding also.
For the rest of the walk through town, he was content to just take in the vibrant colors, sounds and smells…until they got to Kangaskhan's warehouse. Two unfamiliar Pokémon, a pair of absols with one sporting an off-color scar across its shoulder, instantly jumped half-around to stare open-mouthed as they walked past.
Kangaskhan just waved from behind the counter, "Hello, Leo, Leo, Sally and Ruby! How you sweeties doing this morning?"
"Just fine Kangaskhan, and you?" Sally returned, grinning.
"Perfect day, as always!" the kangaroo-like Pokémon, who acted like a big aunt or even mother to everyone, replied.
"This is so nice," Sally commented, turning back to him. "I still can't get over that we can understand everyone, all these different Pokémon."
"Arceus really gave you guys quite a gift," the swampert commented, giving his own wave to Kangaskhan.
To his counterpart's statement, he couldn't argue with himself, mentally making the old joke. He listened with amusement to the two absols excitedly asking Kangaskhan about the strange, new species they had just seen, wondering if they were the humans they'd been hearing so much about. Yep, every once in a while new Pokémon still showed up who either hadn't seen or heard about them, or came solely to catch a glimpse of them. It sometimes felt like a zoo, except they were the attraction and the Pokémon were the visitors!
But as they left town, his thoughts returned to the event at hand. Within another moment, he spotted the light-purple dragon Pokémon standing near the end of the bluff shortly before seeing Blaze, Lonny and Chip with him, all small in comparison. And Celebi too, as she came floating around Palkia.
"We're all here," he heard his counterpart announce after they arrived, as if it needed to be said.
Ruby craned her head around, "Where's Akri?"
"He decided yesterday to travel with Uxie," Lonny answered flatly. "Guess he wanted to be with the other Guardians for a while."
"His attendance was optional," Palkia stated in his now familiar low, slightly growly voice.
Leo was about to ask about the reason for their gathering, but was suddenly distracted by his wife.
Creeping up behind an unaware Chip, she quickly made a downward-lunge: "Get-the-Mudkip!" Before the small Pokémon could react, she had him held up by the sides with the little mudfish's rear legs flailing like he was about to be eaten, not unlike a cat being held up just behind its front legs.
"No!" Chip cried with a note of dread. "Help!"
She paid the 'kip plea no mind, instead sandwiching the little Pokémon between her chest and arms and kissing his face all over for the next few seconds, along with a few tickles to his exposed belly. "You're so cute!"
Leo shook his head, resisting joining in. Ever since Ticonamo and Christina introduced the "game" to them, his wife couldn't help playing it most times they saw Chip.
"Ss…stooop..." as Chip struggled to get out under the kissing and tickling assault, still failing his little legs ineffectively. After his mother reached in to give the mudfish a few extra tickles around his rear fin: "Heeellllp! I'm…being…tortured!"
"No, you like this," Lonny replied with a smile.
Palkia was looking down on the little scene with something like amusement about his face. "I didn't know you tortured mudkips around here. Looks like fun." Earning a wide-eyed look up from the much smaller Pokémon, and leaving no doubt the legendary Pokémon did actually have a sense of humor. "However, we need to leave now."
Leo waited as his wife handed off the panting mudkip to his father after giving the poor thing a last loving cuddle against her shoulder. Then leaning in close: "There's going to be hell to pay after he evolves, you know."
"Perhaps we need our own kid," she replied with a certain seriousness about her green eyes.
Not that they hadn't already talked about raising a child on the Poké world…
No doubt, having a child Pokémon around did seem bring out her motherly side, something he had rarely seen before, especially when they worked in the University lab. And…he liked this new side of her.
"So what's this about, Palkia?" Blaze asked, looking up to the light-purple dragon.
"I'll explain when we get there," Palkia replied, raising his arms upward. "First, we will transport to Spacial Rift, where the portal and Dialga are waiting.
"A portal?" Leo asked, exclamation mirrored by both Blaze and Lonny.
"That means we're going some distance," Sally conjectured. "Are we going back to the ancient world?"
Palkia didn't respond but across his face, Leo swore there was the glimmer of a smile before the area around them flashed pure white, although not particularly blinding. After it faded, they were standing on a grassy landscape strewn with grey to black rocks of all sizes, most half-buried, and an odd, stale scent was in the nearly windless air. It didn't look familiar at all…like most of the Poké world, actually.
"This is the famous Spacial Rift?" Sally asked no one in particular.
Sceptile moved a couple steps ahead, working his fingers over one of his wrist leafs. "There's Dialga," nodding toward where the large blue and silver Pokémon stood before a large grey portal some distance away.
They didn't need any prodding as Palkia lead them the distance to the other legendary dragon, except for Ruby, who was taking an extended look around.
"Looks…spacious," she commented while looking to the sky, which appeared with a slight overcast with some sunlight weakly filtering through.
"I'm happy to see all of you again," Dialga greeted. To Palkia: "Where are we going?"
Blaze jerked. "Ha ha, he didn't tell you either?"
"No," Dialga's voice not carrying anything but a neutral tone.
Palkia lowered his head as he seemed to peer through the portal for a moment, the pink pearls on his two shoulder shields now glowing weakly. "It is ready. We must go through now; it is very draining to maintain." The strain on his face was then apparent.
At first no one moved as Palkia took a step back to clear the way. Then Sceptile leapt ahead. "I assume you'll tell us where it goes when we get there?"
The space-regulating Pokémon nodded.
Leo watched as his life-long green friend seemed to take a breath before leaping through the opening. Then again as his counterpart turned to his own partner ahead of them.
"Well, we're next it seems," the swampert said, and together with Blaze, Lonny, and Chip, followed.
Feeling his wife take his arm in hers, "Shall we?" he asked. He didn't get a step before Ruby grabbed his other arm.
"Are you ready?" Sally asked her with a weak smile.
The female infernape nodded.
With that, they stepped up to the fuzzy, light-grey portal horizon and walked in.
It was very much like the portal from the ancient world back to the Poké world, he noted while tumbling through and struggling to hold on to his wife, with Ruby maintaining a good grip on him. If anything, it felt even longer, but with a little less nausea. He assumed he had to be getting used to it, and by the time they exited, he actually felt hungry! Almost as if expecting this, his counterpart handed him a berry, Blaze doing the same for Sally and Ruby, as Celebi, Dialga, and finally Palkia exited behind them.
While munching, he noted they appeared to be on a small mountain, the sun was either rising or setting at about halfway up in a partly cloudy sky. The warmth was nice, but it was only slightly cool anyway with a weak breeze, well within comfortable. They also seemed to be on some kind of stone path leading up to a flat peak not far away.
"OK, where are we?" Sceptile quickly asked, turning his slender neck this way and that. "Don't recognize this at all."
Celebi flew from the side where she had been looking over a slope to float above the grass-type, almost landing on his head. "Neither do I, but it's pretty here, though."
"We're still on the same world," Palkia replied.
It instantly struck him that something didn't add up, and between mouthfuls: "Huh?" Their transport from Sharpedo Bluff to Spacial Rift on the Poké world was almost instant; yet their trip to this place was like traveling between the Poké world and Arceus's ancient world!
"We traveled a long time," his counterpart added, obviously thinking the same thing.
"Yes," Dialga said. "How can we still be on this planet, unless…" Cocking his head, he suddenly looked around as if realizing or sensing something.
"What's wrong?" Ruby asked, looking between Dialga and Palkia. "Are we in the wrong place?"
"We traveled too long to still be on the same world," Sally whispered.
The infernape cocked her head, her shiny mane puffing slightly.
Palkia gave a wave to the portal, it dissipating in seconds. "Follow me," as he moved around all of them to start up the path in the direction of the sun. As they followed: "The journey here is meant primary for Sceptile, Celebi and Dialga, as it will carry the most meaning for them."
"What? How so?" Celebi asked, leaving Sceptile to fly in front of Palkia's head.
As if not hearing, the dragon continued: "For the rest of you, it will perhaps bring a measure of closure as well."
Closure? "Closure to what?" Leo asked. Looking to his wife, she shrugged and his counterpart returned a blank glance.
"Now I'm really curious, ha ha," Blaze commented, tail twitching as they walked.
Sceptile bounded further ahead, almost joining Celebi ahead of Dialga to look up at Palkia, but saying nothing.
Palkia paused them when they came to the foot of a set of wide, grey stone steps leading up. "Dialga, The Future That No Longer Exists, can you still sense it?"
The other dragon remained silent for a moment, eventually giving a nod. "It seems stronger than it should be."
Now continuing up the steps: "Over three years ago, I believe the events were that the Grovyle of that time line forced a certain dusknoir back into the future from where they and the swampert Leo came, leaving Leo and Blaze to place the time gears at the top of Temporal Tower."
"Yes, that happened," Blaze interrupted somewhat sharply, making it clear he didn't want to be reminded of those events.
Palkia gave a rearward stare to the infernape. "The fading of that timeline wasn't instantaneous, though, I've been told."
"No, the changed events would take time…to catch up and erase the temporally unattached events," Dialga elaborated, though sounding distracted. "Although a trace would still be left." Seemingly more to himself: "It should be weak…"
"Like you, Dialga, Arceus saw what was happening during that point of change and was moved."
Leo starting forming a suspicion of what this was leading to, but remained silent as his heart beat a bit faster. He remembered well the history of his swampert counterpart and Blaze, the events leading up to the change in timelines that the two of them had told him. Dialga had plucked his counterpart out of that collapsing timeline. But what if…
"Before the changes fully reached this point, Arceus used his abilities of both space and time together to isolate that timeline into its own completely separate dimension," Palkia seemed to confirm. "And that is where we are now."
As they reached the top of the steps, another short path lead to what looked like a lookout on the top of another small rise. As Palkia again moved to the side to clear the view, Sceptile, Celebi and Dialga stopped dead in front.
"It's…them…" the swampert gasped from behind Blaze.
"Them who?" Chip asked, still in his father's arms.
"Oh…" Blaze exclaimed almost breathlessly.
"My…gosh," Celebi added.
On the rise were four back-lit Pokémon staring back: a dusknoir, grovyle, celebi, and another Dialga. And from the look of the grovyle, Leo knew immediately who they had to be! With a cold shiver, it felt like seeing someone back from the dead…
"This is Arceus's gift to them, and he wanted all of you to know that they continue to live," Palkia said. "Their sacrifices were rewarded, and this version of the world was allowed to come out of darkness instead of disappear. They will continue to exist here…forever."