Ash Ketchum, of Pallet town (and he never tired of reminding people of that), was confused. He seemed to be floating in nothingness, with no reference point.
He couldn't remember at first how he got there.
When he tried to cast his mind back, he found a strange thing happening – rather than recall his most recent memories, his mind raced back to his earliest days, as if his whole life were being played out in fast forward.
A few things stood out, being seen in the mind's eye more vividly. 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 – that could blast a house into flinders – just from being near.
Ash hadn't mentioned it at the time, or later. He simply assumed that was what people felt. But now, he had some inking of understanding.
Aura, he thought. I can feel its Aura. The gentle amusement, the tiny little part of its mind always on the ready for danger. It's just like that Riolu… what, last year? Can't have been long…
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… but how? What would Lugia have been doing this far north of Shamouti? Could it be because of me?
Eight, playing – well, more in the manner of one big argument with Gary about something or other – in the copse of trees at the end of the road that led to the sea, and 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 imagination, but the Ash who had ridden the north wind's master – albeit for only a short time – knew it was no mere childish figment.
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 in incredible detail, every night without fail.
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, don't you think…"
The pace of his memories was now slow enough that he could catch everything that happened, but still fast enough to cross entire days in under a minute. And the memories now were mostly very happy ones.
When he first met Pikachu, what he only now recognised as a link forming between the two of them, gym battles, meeting all his Pokémon, their successes together… He saw his Pidgeot with a guilty start – he had all but forgotten his promise to come back for her.
Then something he did not remember before now.
He watched the events of the first meeting with Mewtwo in shock. Had he really done all that? Had he… died? Come back? It was so strange to see, though it explained the unusual behaviour of Mewtwo when they met later.
There were few enough surprises in the rest of his life, only things he couldn't quite remember from adrenaline at the time, now seen crystal clear.
Did I really do all that? Wield Aura and attack like a Pokémon? Survive all those falls from great heights? Get possessed?
His action packed last few years ran past his mind's eye until they reached the present.
There had been a heavy feeling to the Isshu air, like something was distorting it, twisting it out of shape. A sense of falling in all directions at once, the group panicking as the world tore itself apart around them.
The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but at one remove from when he had heard it before.
"What do you think?"
He will suffice.
"Aw, come on! The kid's a natural. More so than I ever was."
If he is to be of the greatest use, you will have to train him.
"Can't argue with that."
The voice was getting nearer, if distance held meaning in this place.
One week. I cannot hold the separation much longer than that and still do the deed.
"It'll be enough. Like I said, he's a natural."
Ash looked around, and was surprised to find he was standing on some surface now, where none had been before.
But all his confusion fled – along with other coherent thoughts – when he saw the originator of the voice.
Sir Aaron of Cameran, Hero of the Wave, stood there in the formless place, fully dressed in his last outfit from life and with a crooked smile upon his face.
"So, Ash Ketchum. It's nice to meet you at last."
Ash can be forgiven for spending the next few minutes gaping like a fish.
"So, what you're telling me is that… the world ended?"
"Right in one."
Ash and Sir Aaron were sitting in nothingness, having an incongruous little chat.
"From what I was told, this Cyrus person made another grab for Dialga, Palkia and Giratina, and succeeded this time. He tried to get them to remake the world in his own image." The ancient knight chuckled. "Crazy as hell, but the plan at least was utter genius. So the universe began to shake out of control, and that's when the boss showed up."
"Who's this boss?"
"All in good time, Ash. Now, I believe that little show pointed out a few things. Among them, that you are very good at using Aura. So good, in fact, all you need is a little training and you'd have been a shoo-in for the Aura Guardians. I've been asked to give you that training."
"But… what's the point, then, if the world ended?"
"All in good time, I said, and I meant it. Now, do you understand what these gloves of mine do?"
"I know they make using Aura easier – well, for me anyway – but nothing else."
"That's pretty close. See, they operate by resonance with the natural Aura frequency of the person they were made for, one Sir Aaron. You may have heard of him."
Ash bit back a snort of laughter.
"Hey, I have to advertise somehow. Anyway, the reason you can use them as well is because your frequency is identical to mine. Amazing chance." Laughter flashed for a moment in the ancient knight's eyes. "They not only grant extra power, but also refine your control…"
It had been a long week.
Sir Aaron had emphasized the subtler, lower powered uses of Aura over the flashy, impressive stuff. Apart from making sure Ash could form an Aura Sphere while using the gloves, the knight had been adamant – use this time to practice the delicate things, as they're what you can do without the gloves and while not on an emotional high.
That said, by the end of the week Ash could form a shield similar to Protect, if only for a few seconds even with the gloves; form and throw an Aura Sphere; detect a familiar mind; see using Aura and feel the thoughts of someone nearby or familiar. This last was the one that seemed to make Sir Aaron most happy, but when asked he repeated what had become his mantra. All in good time.
Then, after what Ash thought had been almost seven full days awake in a row, Sir Aaron stopped mid sentence and turned to face in a certain direction.
And walking out of the darkness came a Pokémon Ash recognized as unmistakably Arceus. The creator deity, the one who had formed the world and set it spinning.
He is ready?
Ash jumped as the sheer presence of the creator washed over him, but his teacher merely nodded. "Yes, easily."
Very good. Explain to him what I am about to do.
Sir Aaron looked Ash straight in the eye. "The only way that Arceus found to stop this happening was to get someone to stop it before it began. So, to that end, he asked the world beyond – the only place as yet unaffected, but that won't last – whether there was anyone who could be used.
"As it turned out, my friend Lucario thought rather highly of you after the encounter the two of you had at Cameran palace. So he persuaded me and Arceus both to test you. And we have."
"How did you test me?"
"We observed your past. I think you noticed that? And we were both somewhat impressed – it's not everyday someone saves the world, and you managed it a good dozen times or more before age fourteen. Add to the mix your general attitude and your skill with Aura, and the choice was clear.
"We are sending you back to change all this.
"There is a reward, of course – for a start, there is that you know exactly how to manipulate Aura on a fine level now and may practice it up later. Another is that things will likely go easier for you this second time. The third is that you may choose how far back you go. There are more, but I believe Arceus is ready."
Indeed I am. I have created a second Dialga. 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 my journey began, when I first set off from Pallet."
"Hah! Told you, you great lump."
I thought 'any day but then' was good odds.
"Were you two betting on me or something?"
"Somehow I don't believe you."
In that second of absolute stillness, Ash thought to himself that using the – a – legendary Pokémon that controlled time to get out of an embarrassing situation really took some beating.
Then there was a roar, and he fell into blackness.
"Well, that deals with that. What happens next?"
I admit to some surprise. I had thought the timeline would change instantly.
"Shush, this is serious. We might be in here for months or years with nothing to entertain ourselves."
I could always use my massive cosmic power to create a deck of cards.
"That is really weird… seeing a controller of time jump around like an excited puppy."
He's ten minutes old, what do you want? Now quiet. I need to create a few packs. Perhaps some dice, too.
"See if you can get my old friend Lucario as well. We need four for a good game."
I don't think he's dead yet…now… basically, he's not there.
"Now, that is just somehow unfair…"
So, yes. Time travel.
This won't be entirely serious, as I'm sure you can imagine.
Ash and his Aura powers came as something of a shock to me when my self imposed hiatus from Pokemon came to an end a year or so ago - specifically that he hadn't developed them. Who wouldn't?
Oh well. That's what fan fiction is for.