Ash Ketchum – trainer of Pallet Town, winner of the Orange League and increasingly close runner up in five other regional tournaments – was... confused.
He was floating in black, empty nothingness. No light, no sound, nothing to use as a reference point – and, at first, he wasn't sure how he'd ended up there.
When he tried to remember, instead of the most recent moments he found something strange happening. His mind went straight back to the earliest moments he could remember – flicking past at astonishing speed, as though his whole life were flashing before his eyes on fast forward.
A few things stood out, as though he was slowing down to think about them more clearly.
The first time he saw a Pokémon, at barely two years of age, when Professor Oak – taking care of him when Ash's mother was shopping - was called away suddenly and Ash, Gary and Daisy were left under the supervision of his distinguished old Arcanine, a gentle Pokémon, but a terror in battle decades before when Samuel Oak was the League Champion.
Only reviewing this long forgotten past now did Ash truly realize that he had felt things differently. Other people, he knew, would feel the heat running under the Fire Pokémon's fur. But few would feel the surging, volcanic power in Arcanine's breast just from being near – faintly, but still somehow there to be felt.
Ash hadn't mentioned it at the time, or later. He simply assumed that was what people felt. But now, he was older – and made a connection which suddenly seemed obvious.
Aura, he thought. I can feel his Aura. The gentle amusement, the tiny little part of its mind always on the ready for danger. It's just like that Riolu back in Sinnoh... and Lucario.
The memory dissolved, and his life played itself out again, perhaps a little slower than before.
The time he was five, at Cinnabar island on the black sand beaches, and a snatch of haunting song floated through the air.
I know that music… Ash realized. But how? What would Lugia have been doing this far north of Shamouti? Could it be... because of me? The prophecy said I was the Chosen One...
Eight, playing in the copse of trees at the end of the road that led to the sea. It was all one big argument with Gary, more than playing... but, as this memory played out like the others, there was a glimpse of something in the trees. Barely a flash, but the memory stopped. And Ash marvelled. This was not what he had expected to find in his childhood.
For what was unmistakably Suicune was in the underbrush, observing for but a moment.
The memory moved on, and the legendary Pokémon vanished in a blue blur.
The Ash of the past had dismissed it as unimportant, but this Ash – who knew Suicune, and had even ridden the master of the North wind – recognized it as real.
He saw his dreams as well now, running through each night in barely a second, but the pattern was becoming clear now he saw them in succession.
Ash dreamed of Pokémon.
Only those he had seen, and touched, himself – but they were all there, every night, and in startling detail.
His suspicions were confirmed when his memory passed one sad night in November, the year before he had set off on his journey, when Oak's old Arcanine had passed away in its' sleep. At nearly fifty, it had had a good run, but it had been a noble friend and the town was saddened by its' loss.
And Ash no longer dreamed of Arcanine.
"...a strong link..."
As the rush of memories approached the present, Ash could catch more and more details until it was almost like reliving the events in fast forward. And those memories now were mostly very happy ones.
When he first met Pikachu, that rocky start which turned into a shining, unbreakable bond. Gym battles, applying himself to training and strategy, meeting all his Pokémon...
He saw his Pidgeot – as Pidgeotto – with a guilty start. In the excitement of the Orange Islands, and Johto, and later Hoenn and Sinnoh and Unova... he had all but forgotten his promise to come back for her.
Then there was something – new.
Ash watched in surprise as he and his friends travelled through a storm to an island he didn't remember seeing, and met... Mewtwo. But rather than being the compassionate recluse he remembered, this Mewtwo was bitter and violent.
Watching closely as this unknown chapter of his life unfolded, Ash saw it all. The clones, the battle... his death, and his resurrection.
It was awe-inspiring to watch, the more so when he realized that he had been the one to make such a difference in Mewtwo.
After that, there were no more big surprises – just the reminder of everything he'd done, crystal clear instead of being crowded out by the moment.
Falling from great heights. Wielding the blue flame of Aura. More falling from great heights. Being possessed by an ancient king... and, of course, his friendships with all his Pokémon.
Finally, the moving narrative passed New Tork and reached the present – travelling with Iris and Cilan through the Delcore islands, knowing that their adventure together was soon to end but unwilling to admit it.
There had been a heavy feeling in the air, and everything had suddenly seemed wrong. The very air felt alien-
And then blackness, and this.
Ash swallowed a lump in his throat. Pikachu... everyone... what happened?
A moment later, a voice reached him.
It sounded... familiar.
"What do you think?"
He will suffice.
This second voice was even more familiar – but Ash couldn't quite place it. More, it was a mental voice – telepathy – but with such intensity it seemed to touch his very core.
"No need to be so mellow about it – the kid's a natural. More so than I ever was."
Nevertheless, you will need to train him.
"I can't argue with that," the first voice agreed. Closer, this time – or it sounded closer, at least.
It wasn't as if Ash had a ruler.
One week. I can hold the separation for that long, but no longer – the weight of what wants to be is pressing down from all directions.
"It'll be enough – like I said, he's a natural."
Suddenly Ash was standing on a solid surface. He could move, he could feel and see – and then he saw who had been speaking.
Even for his adventure-filled life, it was a shock.
Sir Aaron of Cameran Castle, Hero of the Wave, stood before him in the black void. Fully dressed, and with a crooked smile on his face.
"So, Ash Ketchum," the hero said. "It's nice to meet you at last."
Ash took a few minutes to stop gaping.
"So... the world ended?" Ash asked, frowning.
"Right in one," Sir Aaron agreed, sitting cross-legged on solid nothingness. "This is all the boss was able to protect."
He shrugged. "From what I was told, this Cyrus guy-"
"Cyrus?" Ash interrupted. "But... he disappeared! I watched it happen!"
Sir Aaron pursed his lips. "Well, whatever might have happened, he came back – and managed, this time, to get Dialga, Palkia and Giratina."
A sigh. "Some people are just the wrong kind of lunatics – crazy enough to be worrying, competent enough to be dangerous. So he managed to get them, and get control of them, and remake the world in his own image."
Ash winced. "What happened?"
"Well, the universe... basically started to come apart at the seams. None of the Celebi could help because Dialga's power was changing the rules of time, and as for trying to intervene..."
"How come we're here, then?" Ash asked. "Was it this... boss, you mentioned?"
"All in good time, Ash," Sir Aaron said. "Now – you saw your life, and so did we. That pointed out a few things to us – one of them, in particular, has to do with Aura."
"Right, like when we went up the Tree of Beginning," Ash agreed. "Sorry about what happened to Lucario, I..."
He shook his head.
"It doesn't matter, Ash," Sir Aaron said. "You were there with him at the end, that's more than you could be expected to do without any training... speaking of which, what you did at the Tree showed that you've got natural talent with Aura. I mean, a lot of natural talent."
"Most novitiates can barely feel their own Aura," Sir Aaron informed him. "If you'd been around in my day, I'd have snatched you up as an apprentice before anyone else could!"
Sir Aaron smirked for a moment, at some unexplained joke. "Anyway," he went on, "I'm going to train you in how to use it."
"Train me – but... what's the point? I mean," Ash added hastily, "if the world ended."
"All in good time," Sir Aaron repeated. "Now – you used these gloves. Do you know what they do?"
"Well, I guess they make using Aura easier?" Ash shrugged.
"That's pretty close. They actually work by resonating with a natural Aura frequency – specifically, that of the great warrior Sir Aaron."
"You might have heard of him, I think he lives around here," Sir Aaron went on. "I might even have his phone number."
That was incongruous enough Ash noticed. "You know what a phone is?"
"Arceus kept me up to date. Yeah, I know," Sir Aaron chuckled along with him. "Anyway, that means that for you to use them you have to have the same frequency. Which is an incredible coincidence."
Again, that unexplained joke.
"And that means they're kind of an aid, like a bicycle is compared to walking. They give you extra power, but they also make it easier to do things..."
It had been a long week, a week in which Ash found himself needing neither sleep nor food – one where every single hour was focused on training.
Sir Aaron had focused on two things, explaining that they'd be important to get straight now and that the rest could wait for when he had time to train and practice 'later'. When 'later' was was never explained, but it was all so interesting that Ash just kept learning exactly what Sir Aaron told him he had to learn.
Surprisingly, combat was not on the list – Ash learned a bit of the basics, how to form a shield that lasted a few wobbly seconds and to throw an Aura Sphere, but that was apparently in the category of 'learn later'. Instead, Sir Aaron first taught him how to train his Aura and how to sense when he was doing well, and then he went down an alley into the mental uses of Aura.
Ash refined his ability to sense a familiar Aura signature, and how to see things on the other side of solid walls. He learned how to feel the thoughts of someone nearby and familiar, and a little bit of how to defend his own mind.
Strangely, it was the ability to touch the mind of someone else which Sir Aaron seemed happiest about – though his only explanation was what had become his mantra. All in good time.
Then, after what felt like seven days of solid effort, Sir Aaron stopped in the middle of explaining how Aura could strengthen the body.
"What is it?" Ash asked, as the knight stood. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Sir Aaron replied.
Then, out of the darkness stepped – Arceus.
The creator deity, the Original One. And someone Ash had saved the life of once, though it was thousands of years in the past and may have retroactively been unnecessary.
He is ready?
Ash jumped at the sheer presence. Unwounded and hale, Arceus' mental voice seemed to be more real than Ash himself.
But Sir Aaron merely nodded. "Yes, he's ready."
Very good. Explain to him what I am about to do.
Sir Aaron nodded, and turned to look Ash in the eye. "The only way Arceus found to prevent Cyrus destroying the world was to prevent it from happening in the first place. So he asked the world beyond – which is unaffected, as yet – whether there was anyone who could help."
Aaron smiled. "And, as it happened, you've got a couple of people back there who think highly of you."
He held up two fingers, and tapped the first one. "First, there's my old friend Lucario – he recommended you straight away. And secondly... there was the Latios whose soul was in the Soul Dew in Altomare."
"Whoa," Ash said, trying to get his head around that little detail.
"So, with that reminder and those references, Arceus and I decided to test you – and we have, in a way."
"How?" Ash asked.
"We saw your past – you probably noticed?" At Ash's nod, Sir Aaron went on. "And we were both impressed – it's not everyone who saves the world once, let alone how many times you did... especially considering you're still a teenager. So the choice was clear."
Sir Aaron took a deep breath.
"We're sending you back in time to change all this," he said.
"There's a reward, of course," the knight went on. "For a start, there's how you're now trained in Aura... that's just one thing, of course. There's others, which you'll find out later – and the most important one is this – you can choose the time you go back to. It'll be your mind in your younger body, so you can essentially do things again."
Sir Aaron held up a hand to forestall any questions. "Hold on, I think Arceus is ready."
Indeed I am.
Arceus stepped aside, to reveal what had been in his shadow. I have created a second Dialga, twin to the one outside. It has the task of sending you back, however far you want to go.
Ash barely even had to think about it.
"I want to go back to the day I met Pikachu – the day my journey began, when I first set off from Pallet."
Sir Aaron laughed. "Ha! Told you, you great lump."
Arceus looked displeased. I thought 'any day but then' was good odds...
"Wait..." Ash pointed. "Were you two betting on me or something?"
"Er..." Sir Aaron tugged his collar. "Nooo?"
"Somehow, I don't believe you," Ash replied.
In that second of absolute stillness, Ash thought to himself – using the, or a, Legendary Pokémon capable of controlling time simply to avoid having to answer some awkward questions... that really took some beating.
Then there was a roar, and he fell into blackness.
Sir Aaron folded his arms. "Well, that deals with that. What happens next?"
I admit to some surprise... I had thought the timeline would change instantly, Arceus admitted. I've never had to use the failsafe before.
"Dia?" the young Dialga asked.
"This is serious!" Sir Aaron said. "We could be stuck in here for months or years with nothing to entertain ourselves!"
I created the universe and everything in it. I could always use that massive cosmic power to... create a deck of cards?
Dialga perked up. "Gla, gla!"
Sir Aaron took a step back. "It's really strange seeing the controller of time jump around like an excited puppy."
He is ten minutes old, what do you expect? Now, quiet, Arceus admonished. I need to create a few packs. Perhaps some dice, too.
"Can you get Lucario?" Sir Aaron asked. "We need four for a good game."
I... can't find him, Arceus admitted, his Spooky Plate pulsing. I suspect that, as his death is no longer certain, he is no longer there.
"That's somehow unfair..." Sir Aaron sighed.
So, yes. Time travel.
This won't be entirely serious to say the least...
This chapter was revised and updated on 11 August 2015.
Unfortunately, chapters up to The Power Of One part 1 were written back during my first run of writing this story, and the quality is sometimes a bit iffy. The Power Of One and onwards have all been done since my hiatus ended, and hence when I have a lot more experience than I used to.
You can of course skip to there, but you may have trouble understanding who SPOILER is, why SPOILER and what the SPOILER is doing with a jet aircraft.