This is the first of two chapters today.
"But… what?" Ash asked. "What happened?"
"I have several questions," Lucario agreed. "Most of them are sort of like that, though."
"Right," Dialga began from behind them. "This is going to take a while to explain."
The Dragon of Time waited while they turned to face him, then continued. "As you can probably tell, something went wrong."
"Yeah, that's… pretty obvious," Dawn said. "I'm… kind of having trouble taking it in…"
She sat down hard. "What did we do?"
"It's hard to tell," Dialga stated. "Time is messy like that."
"This is that meteorite from last year, isn't it?" Brock said suddenly. "What went wrong with that?"
"You are correct," Palkia nodded, appearing next to his fellow Creation Dragon. "The meteorite was not diverted successfully."
"So… we can't – we have to do something!" Ash said. "We need to go back again and do it right – you said we could do that!"
"You are correct," Dialga confirmed, echoing Palkia.
"But we don't know what we did wrong, or how to do it right..." Brock pointed out.
"Can… can we just have a few minutes?" Dawn asked. "Is that going to be okay? I want to help with talking about this, but… not right now, I need to think a bit."
"Are you alright?" Lucario asked, sitting down next to Dawn.
"No," Dawn replied. "I… well, you know why, right?"
She waved vaguely to the south. "The Lucario Kingdom is down there too, I mean… it's one thing to know that you're trying to save the world, but to see what happens when you fail is something else entirely. And… and Twinleaf was probably inside that crater, too..."
Lucario put his paw on her shoulder. "I know what you mean," he said. "And I agree. It's a terrible thing to see, because it makes it real – it shows a world where we failed, or where someone failed, and we don't know enough about what happened to say anything else."
He squeezed, then let go. "But there's something else it tells me, as well."
"There is?" Dawn asked, blinking.
"Yes. We're making a difference. We did save the world, and just because this version of history is one where something went wrong doesn't mean we have to accept it. We know we can make things right, we just need to find what to do… and we don't know what we did wrong, but what that means to me is that we didn't make an obvious mistake."
He pointed back at the rest of the group. "Dialga himself has told us that this isn't what should happen, and that means we're going to be able to fix it."
"That is a good point," Dawn agreed, then frowned. "But… I was going to say that I was hopeful because I still exist, whereas I wouldn't if I'd been underneath… that..."
She waved vaguely around. "But last time, when we were in the past, we started to disappear when the timeline made it look like we'd fail. And that hasn't happened this time."
"I wasn't there, so I don't know," Lucario admitted. "I'm just going off what I've been told. But that is bizarre, yeah, it seems like we're being treated differently by time to how you remember."
"I think I'm going to ask Dialga what's going on," Dawn decided, getting up. "This sounds like something did go weirdly, and I kind of want to know how..."
"Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for you," Dialga stated, after the explanations were over. "The closest thing to an explanation that comes to mind is that the circumstances around Lord Arceus being at risk of death are different to the circumstances around Lord Arceus being all right and the time alteration being unrelated."
He shook his head. "I cannot give you any more information than that, I am afraid."
"So… how come the meteorite didn't get stopped?" Brock asked. "I don't really see how what we did wrong in the past – whatever it was – led to that."
"Time is, as I said before, temporamental," Dialga stated. "And yes, I do remember that conversation."
"You don't remember what happened the first time, though," Palkia said.
"Moving on," Dialga continued. "I do not have enough information to tell you why it is that things went wrong in this exact way. Thousands of years of chaotic variation is nearly impossible to cover; what I can tell you is that, under normal circumstances, events over such a long time would tend to settle back into the path they had before you went to the past. The original outcome is a strange attractor."
"But they didn't," Ash pointed out the obvious.
"Yes. That means there is another strange attractor, or a set of them, which led to this outcome."
The Dragon of Time shook his head. "Again, it would take too long to get into the details, so I will give you the short version. Either this is a situation approached chaotically, in which case almost any change in the past could result in things reverting to the preferred timeline – or producing a new one. Or this is a situation resulting from a decision point, in which case you would need to reverse that decision point to return us to the preferred timeline."
"So… in short," Giratina summarized, "All of us go back in time again and try doing something else, and see if that fixes things."
"Correct," Dialga stated. "And good luck."
His fins extended, his gem lit up, and he Roared them into the past once more.
Thousands of years earlier, they landed – a little more smoothly than last time – in the same place as before, the room near the top of Michina Temple.
"Do you think Dialga aimed to put us here?" Brock asked. "That's twice now."
"I can't see a way we can possibly find that out, Brockster," Geodude opined. "Apart from using the amazing human special power of asking the question."
Brock snorted, then helped Sheena up.
"Sorry about that," Sheena said, brushing herself off. "I wasn't ready for the landing."
Brock waved it off, and turned to look at the others. "Okay, so… what now?"
"Well… we already know where Marcus is," Ash said. "Or where he's going to be soon. And we know how the temple is laid out… I guess we know quite a lot of stuff."
"Let's go to where Damos is," Dawn suggested. "We can explain things to him… we'll have to tell the whole story again, but I guess that's not a big problem."
"Not if we can work this out," Brock agreed. "I don't have a problem with that… does anyone else?"
"Well, I don't," Latios squeaked. "Should Latias or I go and see what Damos is doing anyway?"
Ash thought about it, then shook his head. "Noctowl got seen," he pointed out. "And heard. I think you'd get noticed."
"Good point," Latios nodded. "I guess we're going to bust Damos out of prison again?"
Every time someone says that name I momentarily get confused between the human in the past – which is where we are now – and my son, Dexter said, emitting an electronic sigh. It's normally the other way around when you're talking about a namesake, especially with that much time difference.
Damos listened to what they had to say, his expression troubled, then sighed.
"I am grateful for the help," he said. "And I thank you for explaining – fully, as you have – what happened the first time you tried."
"Well, second, kind of," Ash corrected. "I think? It's kind of confusing..."
"I imagine it would be," Damos said.
He leaned back against a pillar in his cell. "I admit I have little idea of what would be the best thing to do."
"Well… the big question is whether things went wrong for a reason or by chance," Brock reasoned out. "And the only way I can think of to test that is to do it again and see if things go wrong a second time. We know where Marcus is, though, so we don't need to send anyone out scouting again – unless he's changed what he's doing because he didn't get alerted, but still… maybe that will help."
"Sounds likely to me," Dawn agreed. "So… we try and get Marcus beaten as quickly as possible, then give Arceus back the Jewel of Life? Is there anything we've forgotten?"
"If there is, I can't remember it," Pikachu said.
"Another odd thing on top of a whole list of odd things," Damos noted. "I will be party to one of the most important days of my life being redone until it comes out right… but I can hardly complain with a chance to see Marcus' plans foiled, and the Jewel returned to Arceus."
"It's going to be odd doing the same thing more than once," Goodra said to himself. "It's really not a sensation I'm used to."
"Eh, you get used to it," Quilava replied. "Same plan as last time?"
"Okay… go!" Ash called, and Goodra jumped off the side of Michina Temple.
His powerful legs and tail carried him out a long way, putting him over where some of the armoured Pokémon from Michina were gathered, and he began to drop – quickly gaining speed.
"You're alright!" Swellow called, checking his angle, then flew off with a flap of wings to check in on some of the others making the drop.
Goodra double-checked what was in his target area – no humans, just a couple of Pokémon – then inhaled deeply, and used Dragon Pulse straight downwards. A jet of purple-and-yellow dragonflame speared out towards the plateau, hitting as an almost complete surprise to the Luxray underneath him, and blasted them backwards with a yowl of surprise even as the force of the jet slowed Goodra noticeably.
Outmuscling gravity, the Dragon Pulse jet braked Goodra's fall enough that he landed on his feet with ease. Spinning around, he knocked the Luxray away from him with his tail, then took Quilava from his shoulder with one hand.
She balled up without further prompting, and Goodra threw her at the nearest Exploud. The Fire-type spun up into Flame Wheel on the way, hitting Exploud a blow on the side, and skidded along the floor as she bounced off – throwing sparks as she controlled her slide, before darting back in to attack Exploud again.
As she did, Goodra returned his attention to the Luxray he'd knocked away – now coming back in, jaws shimmering blue with an Ice Fang. Goodra warded her off with a Dragon Pulse which drew a sizzling line on the ground in front of her, bracing himself with his tail, then switched attacks and launched a Water Pulse at her.
Luxray shattered the Water Pulse with a Thunderbolt, but that meant she took her focus off dealing with the incoming Dragon-type – who promptly hit her with Dragon Tail, knocking her halfway across the plateau, and looked around to see if Quilava needed help.
The Exploud was shouting out attacks, trying to hit the agile Fire-type and failing, and before Goodra could wade in to help the battle was brought to an abrupt conclusion by Brock's Marshtomp knocking Exploud out with a well-aimed punch.
Some time later, when the moon had nearly swallowed the sun, Damos glanced aside.
"Did it go well?" he asked. "I mean… when I gave Arceus back the Jewel of Life. If this happened before..."
"It did," Dawn told him. "And, well… I don't know if 'before' is the right word. I don't know what the right word is."
"I know what it sounds like, though," Lucario said. "It sounds like 'Celebi'."
Damos smiled briefly, then returned to what he'd been saying. "And – well, I've spent the past few years of my life trying to get ready for this moment, for when I would hand back the Jewel of Life to Arceus. I have to admit..."
He looked down in the eerie half-light, then sighed. "I have to admit, a part of me wants even now to agree with Marcus. To keep the Jewel, because that way I know Michina will be safe. But… did it go well?"
"It did, yeah," Dawn repeated. "Both short term, and long term. Short term… you were respectful, and Arceus was grateful, so it all worked out fine."
She paused, thinking of a new way to put it. "I know it's kind of strange to think about it that way – it did work so it will work – but you've got another way of thinking about it."
Damos invited her to continue.
"You can just think of it as something that happened somewhere else," Dawn explained. "Someone else had a Jewel of Life, and they gave it back, and Arceus took it well."
Damos nodded, understanding that, and the light dimmed further as the eclipse approached totality. "And Michina will be safe?"
"Michina will be just fine," Dawn confirmed. "We've seen it, after you gave the Jewel back – thousands of years after – and it looked just fine."
"It did," Sheena agreed. "Beautiful, lush fields and flowing water..."
"I can see you love Michina as much as I do myself," he said.
Then the umbra came, totality, and with it came the Creator.
"I guess this is it," Sheena said, as Arceus rose in glory into the heavens. "This is where we find out if… well, if we did this right this time."
"Yeah," Brock agreed. "If I understand what Dialga was saying, when we go back we'll either see everything sorted out… or we won't, and we'll have to try something else."
"I don't really want to see that crater again," Mawile said softly. "It was way too sad…"
"I think we all agree with that," Ash said. "But if we do see it again, that will mean we know we need to try something else…"
"Trial and error is an underappreciated way of making changes in history," Dialga told them, then sent them forwards in time again with a sudden surge of energy.
It seems odd, but I think I'm starting to get used to time travel, Mewtwo said, raising his hand in the heavy-feeling air. It's unusual, and I wouldn't want to build a house here, but…
"I sort of get what you mean," Ash replied. "But I really don't want to spend enough time doing this to get used to it… I wonder if Celebi feels like this all the time?"
"I hope not, I like Celebi," Pikachu muttered. "How long is it till we land?"
"I'd guess about… four hundred years?" Geodude suggested.
Mewtwo spread his hands, ready to brake their landing, then with a sudden jolt they arrived.
For several long seconds, none of them spoke.
"...okay, that's not what I was expecting," Brock said eventually. "There were two options, and this is the third..."
All around the pinnacle spire of the Michina Ruins, reaching about halfway up to the peak but no further, was an endless glittering array of green and sky-blue crystal. Latent energies pulsed beneath the surface, forming shifting patterns of light as they watched.
"This one is a little outside my experience," Dialga declared. "Do any of you have some insight?"
"It kind of looks like what happened with Molly," Ash said."She contacted the Unown, and… well, this kind of stuff was spreading out from her home. But she lived in Johto, before she moved to Pallet Town-"
He turned to Dialga. "Wait – you said that either we'd need to change something big or we wouldn't. Which is this?"
"Given the magnitude of the change… the outcome is chaotic," Dialga stated. "Small changes in how you do something in the past lead to a big change now."
"Look!" Dawn said, getting their attention as she pointed. "What's that?"
One of the patterns of light was flowing towards them at speed, racing towards the base of the spire.
The light flashed as close to the spire as it could get, then poured out into the air – and with it came a young woman, made small by the distance.
The woman – looking like she was at the top end of her teens, or perhaps a little older – looked up at the Michina Ruins, then jumped. The jump was accompanied by a little burst of light, a pastel green and blue in colour, and she floated up to land lightly on the edge of the tower.
"Wait..." Ash said, frowning slightly. "Molly?"
"That's who I am," the woman replied. "Where did you come from?"
"Now that's a long story," Dawn said, in something of an understatement. "You're Molly Hale?"
"You all seem so surprised," Molly replied, smiling slightly. "You're here, aren't you? How could you be surprised?"
"Like Dawn said, it's a long story," Ash answered. "We actually came here from the past."
"Everyone comes from the past," Molly said. There was another flash of blue-green light, and an Entei formed behind her. "Or that's what Papa says, anyway."
"I do not remember saying that," the Entei replied, giving her a nuzzle.
"You say all sorts of wise things, you must have said it some time," Molly countered, smiling again.
She looked up at Ash, and the smile left her face. "But… there's something strange about you. I know you, and I don't know how."
"I'm confused," Sheena admitted. "Who is this?"
"Do you want the short version or the long version?" Lucario asked.
"I think I would like very much to hear one of those," Molly declared.
She waved her hand, and the green and blue light turned into a filigree table and half-a-dozen chairs – then blinked. "Oh!"
"What's wrong?" Ash asked.
"Oh… I thought that my wishes didn't work here," Molly explained. "I've tried before, but I can't make anything here – it never lasts any time at all. But here it is."
Dialga coughed slightly.
"How long has it been since you made your wish in Greenfield?" Ash asked. "Are you still asleep?"
Molly paused, halfway through sitting down, then slowly finished. "You're funny," she declared. "Nobody knows that, but you do. How do you know that?"
"We time travelled," Ash began. "That's what I meant, we came from the past. I… guess we must have changed something again, or something? But before we did… I met you at Greenfield, and so did Brock, and another friend of ours called Misty."
Molly listened, spinning her finger idly around to make some plates of cake appear on the table.
"I've been meaning to ask," Giratina said, swimming up into the air a little to get closer to Dialga. "How exactly does it work when you change time like that? From your perspective?"
Dialga hummed, his gem flashing through several different colours as he thought about it.
"Here's an analogy," he said. "Have you ever written a book?"
"No, I'm not much of one for typewriters," Giratina replied.
"Well, it's not much like writing a book."
"...I thought you said this was an analogy," the Dragon of Symmetry frowned.
"I didn't say it was a good one," Dialga replied.
Giratina tilted his head.
"Did you originally say it was a good analogy, then go back and change it?"
Dialga shook his head. "No, but that's the sort of way you need to be thinking. I remember all the timeline changes which happened under my purview."
Giratina raised a foreleg.
"And that includes the ones enacted by Celebi, generally."
Giratina nodded. "That was only one of my questions. So you don't remember the changes that happened because of the Dialga who sent Ash back in time?"
"I can tell some things about them, by examining humans and Pokémon who made the transition," Dialga explained. "But yes, that one feels a little odd to me compared to the others."
When Ash finished the explanation, Molly frowned – clearly thinking hard, turning things over in her head.
"That sounds really different," she said. "I made a mama and a brother as well..."
The young woman glanced back at the unreal Entei, who nuzzled her. "You are who you are, Molly."
"Yeah," Molly agreed. "But…"
She sighed. "It does sound nice to have a mama as well, and..."
"If that is what you want, you can have it," Entei reminded her, then paused. "But it is not that that you want."
Molly turned to Entei, and shook her head. "No, I – sorry, I didn't mean it."
"You did, Molly. But I do not mind," Entei stated. "All I want is for you to be happy, Molly."
"But I am happy," Molly protested. "With you, and..."
She clenched her fist. "It's not fair."
"I want you to be happy," Entei repeated. "And that means I want you to make the decisions which will make you happy."
Everyone turned to look at the source of the voice.
A panting Glaceon came scrambling over the crest of the pinnacle, freezing herself little handholds to use as she climbed. Once finally on the same level as the rest of the group, she paused to gather her breath for a moment before running over.
"I… I know you," Molly said. "How do I…"
Glaceon flashed and turned into an Eevee – a grey-coated shiny Eevee, a much more obvious difference than the one between a regular Glaceon and a shiny Glaceon – and pawed at Molly's legs, until the young woman picked her up.
"Wait..." Pikachu began, slowly. "Eevee? How did you get here?"
"I don't really know," Eevee admitted, switching to Flareon for better snuggling. "Things changed a lot, and then they changed a lot again and I was nearby, and I saw you going up this spire so I thought I'd come with you!"
"We did something with time, I think," Ash summarized.
"Oh, right!" Flareon realized. "That's why Molly's now all older and stuff. But she's sadder, too… that's not fair."
As Flareon spoke, Molly tilted her head a little and then waved her hand – sending a sparkle of light across Flareon's side.
"Hey, that tickles!" Flareon giggled.
"I made you," Molly said, slowly. "But I don't remember it, and you're… real-"
She buried her face in Flareon's fur, squeezing tightly, then looked up with wet eyes.
"It's real," she said. "Do – do you promise that you'll fix it? The same way you said?"
"Yes," Ash replied. "I don't know how long it'll take us, or how many tries, but – I'll make sure it goes the same way. So you get your Mom and Dad back, as well as Entei, and Suicune and Raikou as well."
"And me!" Flareon said, switching to Sylveon this time, then the shiny Fairy-type raised a ribbon. "Actually – I'll come with you! I'm good at helping with that kind of thing!"
"That's the Eevee you mentioned, right?" Sheena asked. "The one who you said Molly made, when you sorted that out? The one who's why the Fairy type exists?"
"That's her," Brock agreed.
"She is a sweet little thing," Sheena smiled, though she looked a bit lost. "But – why did that change Molly's mind?"
"My Molly is troubled," Entei said, softly, padding over to them. "She has all the power she could want, she can make whatever she desires out of dreams and imagination. But I know her, and she knows that I'm… a little more than a figment of her imagination, but a lot less than a real Pokémon and not the father she lost."
He sighed. "I can be a lot of things for her, but it is hard for her to be truly surprised – or fulfilled, really. This sadness has been coming for a long time, but your arrival has brought it out."
"You said you wanted what was best for her," Dawn repeated. "To make her happy. So… it's because she's not happy?"
"Yes. And with what you have said… I believe it is all true. And that Molly is much happier."
The glamoured Pokémon waved his paw at the others. "Molly knows that, she knows that she'd be happier if she stopped… it's just hard for her to accept it. But now I think she has."
"Hey, uh, I had a question?" Ash said, as the group got ready for another time travel trip – Molly still saying goodbye to Eevee, with Entei by her side. "Why is it that we didn't trip over ourselves? We've already been to Michina, several times now..."
"That's a very good question, and the answer to it is, unfortunately, not going to satisfy you," Dialga replied. "It's how time works."
"You're right," Giratina nodded. "That wasn't satisfying."
"If I asked you why your Reverse World portals are easier on a reflective surface, would you explain by talking about gauge bosons and metadynamics or whatever it is your particle physics works with?" Dialga asked. "No? Then let me simplify things for you."
As I understand it, it's a matter of overwriting, Dexter said. You are sending us back slightly further than the previous jump each time, which means that the historical changes propagate past that point. If you sent us slightly less far back then we would indeed run into ourselves.
"Good enough to be going on with," Dialga agreed, as Eevee came bounding over to join them – transitioning from that form to Espeon between one pawstep and the next.
"Bye for now!" she called, waving her tail. "See you soon!"
Molly waved back, one hand on Entei's back, and then Dialga's power rose around them all and they were transiting back to ancient Michina once more.
This time, they made the landing more easily – for the fifth time travel trip in a row, the humans and Pokémon were starting to get used to it. Espeon wasn't, stumbling a few steps before turning into a Vaporeon and briefly dissolving into water to shed her momentum.
Reforming into a Pokémon, then shifting to Umbreon, she blinked and looked around. "Wow… this looks all new. I kind of thought going to the past would mean we'd be in a really old place, but thinking about it I guess that's kind of silly."
"It took me a moment," Sudowoodo agreed. "It's because we always think of old places as looking old, but that's because… they've aged. We're back before the ageing happened."
"Okay, so… right, let's go," Ash decided. "...we know what to do, right?"
"I don't," Umbreon admitted.
"We need to go and find Damos and let him out of his cell, and stop Marcus," Dawn summarized. "Then we can get the Jewel of Life back, and give it to Arceus."
"And that'll fix things?" Umbreon asked.
"It should," Pikachu said. "Emphasis on 'should'… we've tried twice now and it hasn't worked, but each time it's made something different happen. Dialga said that that meant the outcome was chaotic, so it should work sooner or later."
Umbreon's ears drooped slightly, then she brightened. "Well, I guess I can trust you guys to get it right! So I shouldn't be worried at all!"
"You're a real ray of sunshine, Umbreon," Brock smiled. "Which… is kind of ironic, really."
"I can do sunny," she replied, switching to Flareon, then Espeon. "Hey, which of these works better for sunny?"
Damos looked up, frowning in surprise.
"Can you hear something?" he asked.
The spiky-eared Pichu he'd come to know looked at him, perking up her ears, then looked towards the cell entrance.
As they listened, the sound got louder. A kind of crash, like several pairs of metal boots coming down with great force and at a quick step – getting closer and closer.
Until a Metagross foot-fist punched right through the metal of the cell door, and crushed it down to floor level.
"...that was kind of over the top," said one of the humans following the Metagross. "It did work, though."
The Metagross withdrew a bit, somehow conveying the impression of satisfaction with the very large footprint it had left in the door – and the floor – and the humans came in, accompanied by a very strange collection of Maiju.
"Okay, so..." the one at the front began.
"I see," Damos said, thinking hard. "It's… a strange thing to think about, really, how I'm going to be involved in doing one of the most important days of my life more than once – and I'm not going to remember it."
"I think you're going to be having the same conversations more than once," Lucario pointed out. "It's kind of a funny thing, that."
Damos chuckled. "I suppose you've already had this conversation?"
"Not exactly," Zorua answered, sitting in her preferred human guise at the side of the room. "But it's kind of variations on a theme."
"We've only had a conversation like it once," Sheena said, confused. "You're making it sound like we had lots more of them."
"She does that," Ninetales advised.
"So… what do we do differently?" Pikachu asked. "Do we do anything differently? We've been winning the battles, but..."
"We do need to change things a little, to make sure we get the chaotic effect and a different outcome," Brock opined. "Though Leafeon being along will change that anyway, because she wasn't last time."
"Maybe we should try mixing up which Pokémon do what?" Ash suggested. "Or… Absol, can you help? If you could tell what's causing the problems, anything that might help, then it'd be really useful."
Absol emerged from where she'd been listening in her Pokéball, the room too small to fit everyone, and sat on her haunches. "That's kind of a difficult subject..."
"Those strange orbs – I wondered what they were," Damos said, looking closer. "They hold Maiju in them?"
"Yeah," Ash agreed. "They're called Pokéballs, so we call them Pokémon now."
"An odd title," Damos said, inspecting one of the small Pokéballs, then rearing back a little as Pikachu tapped it with a paw and it expanded out to full size. "I can see how it would help, though, especially with a large Maiju – but you must have a mighty retinue indeed."
"Most of them usually stay at home," Ash replied. "They're all here for this, though, to help out."
"Fascinating," Damos said, then shook his head. "Sorry, I believe I interrupted."
"I knew it was going to happen," Absol replied, with a smile as Dexter translated her words, then sighed. "But… the disaster sense of an Absol is not perfect. It's better at the short term and the nearby, just like sight or hearing are better when used on something that's close – or bright or loud, because sharper problems are easier to sense as well. Ash's destiny is such a tangled knot that I can sense the general cloud of assorted potential around him, and sometimes when I'm in Mega form I can do better, but it's very hard to go more than a year or two – and for the meteorite, it was so far away that I only detected it when it was close in time, and then when I was Mega."
She raised a paw. "Sorry. I just can't reach far enough to help."
"That's disappointing, but thank you for explaining," Brock told her. "Is there any way we could fix that?"
"...I'm not really sure," Absol admitted, after thinking about it. "To some extent I can redefine my own meaning for disaster, but it's not got unlimited flexibility – far from it – and I don't know what to look for."
"I guess that just means we'll go with what we said before," Ash decided. "Everyone think that's okay?"
There were nods.
"I did have one idea," he went on. "Giratina, do you think you can take some Pokémon with you through the Reverse World? That would let us get more Pokémon to ground level quickly."
"I'd be glad to," the Legendary replied, only his head sticking out of the wall he was phased through.
"Can we get the location right, though?" Brock asked.
"I have an idea," Dawn replied. "I'll go with Giratina, and Rotom can contact Dexter through our entry portal so they can work out when we're in the right place."
"Rotom's still in there?" Brock asked, surprised. "It's been hours."
"I don't mind this watch, it's comfortable," Rotom replied, then went silent again.
"It's going to take a while to get used to this place… well, being accessible, I guess," Dawn said, looking around at the skies of the Reverse World.
It was different, though she wasn't sure if it was because of the time or the place, and spires of rock formed a half-connected lattice through the ethereal air. One of them seemed to be in about the right place, based on what Rotom and Dexter had worked out, and she was walking down another spire at right-angles to it to get into position.
"To me it's just normal," Giratina replied, swimming past her through the air.
"Yeah, I can see that," Dawn agreed. "It's just what you're used to that defines normal and odd… hmm, though, is there a problem with us being in here? There's another one of you around somewhere."
"I don't really think it's a huge problem," Buneary said. "Unless Giratina thinks otherwise… but, well, look at it this way, the Reverse World is as big as the material world, and we're the only people in it apart from Past Giratina."
"Don't forget that there's a lot more space in the Reverse World," Pachirisu added brightly. "You know, how you can go kinda through the planet."
"That's correct, and I considered using it to get to Sinnoh faster," Giratina told her. "But it was quicker to come by Porygon."
He swam along a bit more, then twisted through a right angle. "About here?"
"Yes," Rotom buzzed from Dawn's wrist.
"Okay, guys, time to get ready," she said. "Giratina, you can open a portal anywhere, right?"
"I don't need a reflective surface, correct," Giratina replied, his not-Griseous not-Orb pulsing slightly as he spoke. "Do you want a countdown?"
"That would be good," Dawn agreed, sending out Mamoswine and Togekiss to complete the set of her Pokémon ready to go. "You guys know the plan, right?"
"Yep," Luxio agreed with a nod, crouching to let Buneary get on. "We show off a lot and confuse them."
"That's pretty much the plan," Dawn nodded, checking that everyone else was ready as well. Piplup and Quilava both stood next to Ambipom, ready to go… Mamoswine was ready, and Togekiss had picked up Pachirisu… everything looked just fine.
"Three," Giratina announced. "Two. One."
Space tore open, and Ambipom threw Piplup at the nearest armoured Pokémon.
Claws out for extra grip, Luxio pelted along the ground. Electrical energy fizzed from his tailtip as he moved, and he jumped over a Luxray in his way before the bigger Pokémon could do more than mrowl in surprise.
"Over there!" Buneary called. "High low!"
Luxio turned, claws raising sparks from the stone as he did so, and used Shock Wave to flick a blast of electricity at the Nidoqueen Buneary had indicated. It burst into a flash just before reaching her, startling her, and Buneary jumped clear of Luxio's back.
The Electric-type accelerated into a Quick Attack, darting past Nidoqueen's tail while she was still surprised, and slid around in a turn to watch as Buneary attacked – blinking in surprise as she used Ice Punch and produced a giant icy fist, knocking Nidoqueen back on her heels with the unexpected force of the impact.
Buneary did it twice more, punching down in both cases and using the recoil to keep herself in the air, then spun and used Bounce instead to launch herself high overhead. Luxio took his cue, darting into a sprint again and climbing up Nidoqueen's tail and back as a ramp – making the Poison-type bellow in rage – before jumping up to meet Buneary mid-air as she began to fall.
"Yah!" he called, using the strength of his hind legs to add to Buneary's own as she pushed off from him – building up speed for a much stronger double-pawed Ice Punch that knocked Nidoqueen staggering sideways before she fell over entirely.
After Luxio reached the apex of his own arc – and before he hit the ground – Togekiss came flying past, and Pachirisu wrapped an electric coil around her fellow Electric-type to catch him and bring him along for the ride.
"How's it going?" Togekiss called.
"Not bad," Luxio replied, twisting a little so he could see what was going on. He mostly concentrated on his own teammates, spotting where Quilava was being used as a flaming ball by Ambipom to bean her target Baltoy in the side and keep it spinning. Even as he watched, Piplup spun up a Whirlpool, doing the same spin trick to a Claydol on a much larger scale, and when the Claydol used Rapid Spin to dispel the Whirlpool it found itself about half a second from being hit by a Mamoswine charge.
Over to the left a little, he saw Ivysaur restraining a Luxray with his vines and using Sleep Powder on her, then a blur of movement went past as Entei charged downhill to help with the Pokémon fighting with Marcus' armoured Heatran.
"Drop us over there," Pachirisu suggested, pointing over at where a couple of human soldiers were coming onto the plateau. "How's your Thunder Wave?"
"Not bad," Luxio replied.
"Good," Pachirisu said, then hummed. "Actually, I think we need to get you over there sooner. You land on your feet, right?"
"...I can see where this is going" Luxio sighed, as Togekiss banked around to face in the right direction. "Go ahead."
Two more rings appeared, and Pachirisu fired Luxio like a coilgun projectile towards the two human soldiers.
As he arced through the air, Luxio let sparks build up in his mane as he Charged. Just before he hit the ground he converted all that charge into a blast of Magnet Rise, producing an impressive ring of sparking light on his landing and gentling it enough to let him slide to a halt without going over in a roll.
Before the humans could properly react, Luxio turned to them and used Thunder Wave – sending a wave of electrical energy flashing over their armour and shields, producing a surprised yelp and stunning them both.
Pachirisu dropped in a moment later, landing with a similar pulse-flash, and nodded her approval before looking around for somewhere else they could help out.
"Hi!" Eevee said brightly. "I saw you earlier but it was kind of busy and a bit confusing, so I waited a bit. Are you able to talk now?"
The Pokémon she was talking to, the spiky-eared Pichu who'd befriended Damos, turned to look at her. "Oh – hi? I… don't think I saw you before?"
"Oh, right," Eevee realized. "Maybe I looked different."
She flowed through all her forms in the space of about three seconds, ending as Sylveon, and held out a tendril to shake. "Nice to meet you, then!"
Pichu nodded. "Okay, now I recognize you. Neat trick."
She shook the tendril, and Sylveon smiled brightly before sitting back on her haunches.
"So, how come you have the special ear?" she asked. "If that's a question it's okay to ask, that is. If it's not, never mind!"
"No, it's okay to ask," Pichu assured her. "So… I don't understand the exact mechanics of it, but I'm actually from… I guess it's your time, if you had Pokéballs then."
She flushed slightly. "I saw Dialga, standing there, and I wanted to touch him to see what it was like being that close to a Legendary… but I guess he was standing there because he was about to time travel, so I got caught up. That's how I ended up here, though… I think there were like six places we went first?"
"Oh, cool, so you've had some fun time stuff happen," Sylveon nodded. "That makes sense. I'm made of imagination, I know how it is."
Pichu began to nod agreement with the shared empathy of two weird Pokémon. Then she stopped, and did a double-take.
"No, you're... really going to have to explain that one further."
As the moon finally obscured the last of the sun, Arceus appeared in glory – golden light seeping into the world accompanied by a ring of light, blue and green and purple in a mirror of the Aurorae and shaped like the flickering shadow of the corona.
He stepped on thin air, then began walking down a stairway from heaven which did not exist until He put His hoof on each stair, and which vanished away when He took His weight off it.
Reaching ground level, He raised His head slightly – ignoring Damos for the moment and focusing His attention on Ash.
"You seem unimpressed."
"Sorry," Ash replied. "I… well, it is impressive, but I've seen it before. This is the fourth time today."
"Some of them were a bit different," Pikachu volunteered. "And one of them wasn't technically today."
Arceus considered that, His brow furrowing slightly.
"Were you impressed the first time?" He asked.
Ash nodded. "Yes – it's just that we've seen it so many times in a row."
The Creator nodded minutely, then turned his attention to Damos.
"Lord Arceus, I have the Jewel of Life to return," he said, taking the brilliant gemstone and raising it so that Arceus could take it.
"I kind of feel like I should be putting stickers on these," Sheena said, inspecting the three fake Jewels of Life she was holding – all of them identical, aside from the first one which was marred by a slight scratch mark. "You know, something saying 'fake'. So we don't get confused between them and the real one."
"That's actually not as big a problem as you'd think," Lucario told her. "They look pretty different in Aura sight, not surprising as one of them is a huge concentration of the Plates of Arceus and the others are just a nice looking gemstone. All three of those are fakes, obviously."
"That does make it a lot easier to deal with," Sheena replied. "I wonder what I'm going to do with them, though..."
"Museum?" Pikachu suggested, getting translated by Dexter. "Paperweight?"
"Okay, I think everyone's ready," Ash said, looking around to make sure. "Dexter, is that everyone?"
All are accounted for.
Dialga's gem flashed, and they were sent forwards in time again.
"I'm starting to think that a lot of that stuff he does when he uses Roar of Time is to show off," Brock said, as the world swirled around them – time passing in a blur, decades per second.
"Maybe, but what's wrong with showing off?" Buneary asked.
"Good point, well made," Brock conceded.
As they spoke, Ash looked out of the bubble. "I don't see anything going wrong… anything show up for you, Flareon?"
Molly's companion walked past, inspecting the bubble's edge, and sniffed at it.
"Not really," she replied. "I could try licking it."
"Probably better not to try," Dawn said, checking her watch. "How long – thanks," she added, as Rotom added a custom app showing the time ticking down until their expected arrival. "Five, four, three, two, one-"
The bubble collapsed.
Sheena sighed in relief, seeing Michina laid out below them – beautiful and green, just as it had been when they'd left for the first time.
"We did it..."
"It looks like we did," Suicune agreed. "Good work, everyone."
"I fear not," Kari said. "Look to the south."
About ten or twelve miles away, an oddly marked Nidorino jumped backwards away from the swipe of an attacking Gengar. The Nidorino squared his shoulders, watching his foe warily, then charged – using a Dark-type attack with his horn, knocking the Gengar down with a crash.
"How big are those Pokémon!?" Sheena asked, agape. "They must be half a mile high!"
"I think we're not in Kanto any more, Dorothy," Lucario opined.
"I don't think we've been in Kanto for a while," Pikachu replied. "What happened?"
There was a roar, signalling the approach of another of the giant Pokémon – this one an enormous Salamence, with wings which raised visible storms of wind and sent trees rocking back and forth below it with every wingbeat. Like the Nidorino, and the Gengar for that matter, there was a pattern of odd markings on its wings and body.
Then it froze in place in mid-air. So did everything else, except the small group on the top of the Michina Ruins.
"That's better," Dialga said, fins retracting slightly.
"What happened this time?" Brock asked. "Obviously something went wrong, but what?"
"It's Pokéatlantis," Ash answered.
He put a hand to his temple. "I kind of recognize some of it… not everything, but enough of it makes sense. Pokéatlantis and Pokémonopolis wanted to make Maiju weapons, powerful enough to defeat one another… I guess here they're still fighting?"
"That is substantially correct," Dialga confirmed.
"Then – wait, hold on," Brock said. "We might need to check something… this is all supposed to be because of chaos theory, right? Small changes in the past mean big changes in the future?"
"Then – can you try making small changes after what we did at Michina?" Brock went on. "Maybe one of them will make the world we actually came from..."
"I kind of feel like something's being done wrong, here," Eevee fretted, her tail lashing.
"If you know how to stop and alter time, then please do show me what I'm doing wrong," Dialga said. "...no, seriously, I don't know if that's a thing you can do. Can you?"
"No, don't think so," Eevee replied, pondering that for a moment. "And I don't mean that, I mean something else. Not sure what though."
The Dragon of Time nodded in assent, looking a little relieved, and his fins extended.
"How are we going to know if it went all right, by the way?" Dawn asked. "I mean, is it going to be possible to tell if we've ended up in our original timeline?"
"I should be able to tell you that," Dialga replied, and roared.
This time, the attack pulsed into the air – a visible ripple which shrank down to a point and vanished less than ten feet from his muzzle.
The world around them stayed static for a moment, then everything outside the bubble changed.
"I… don't think that qualifies as an improvement," Brock winced, looking at the blasted landscape – the horizon marred by two tornadoes together, throwing up a cloud of debris. "What happened this time?"
"This is a little strange," Dialga admitted, examining a shimmering time portal. "It would appear that in this world the climate system collapsed into chaos some three or four years ago."
"Shamouti," Ash realized. "I… guess it's at least good to know we've been making a difference?"
"That's one way to look at it," Pikachu said. "I think I like that way of looking at things."
"What kind of change did you actually make?" Dawn asked.
"I sent a pulse of pressure into the past," Dialga replied. "It was not a major change, just a gust of wind. This seems to confirm that there is a chaotic effect in place."
He Roared again, and the world around them trembled before changing for a second time. This time it was somewhat similar – if not identical – and the tornadoes were gone, but replaced by a stormy grey sky.
"The houses are gone," Sheena realized.
This… Mewtwo began, sounding deeply sorrowful. This one is my doing. I recognize my own plan.
Ash put his hand on Mewtwo's shoulder. "This isn't who you are," he said. "You didn't do this."
But it might have been me, if I had not met you.
"If things going badly wrong because of a problem in the distant past is something to tell you off about, then we should tell off the whole planet," Dawn said firmly. "Or did you miss some of the other worlds we've seen?"
Dialga decided now was the best time to spike them into another timeline – this time an ice age, which passed without comment until he threw them sideways once more.
This time the ground was glowing magma, with only their little spire immune to the visible heat, and an enormous rainstorm was visible on the horizon.
"Groudon and Kyogre," Suicune said. "Or Primal Groudon and Primal Kyogre, I suppose."
"Stop, please!" Eevee asked. "We just keep seeing awful things… I don't think this is working!"
"It should be working," Dialga replied.
"You said that there was a kind of change that was chaotic," Eevee said. "But what other kinds of change are there?"
"There were… hold on," Latios frowned, trying to remember. "I think Dialga said that there were changes where you make a small change in the past and it makes a big change in the future, then there were changes where nothing much happens at all because history doesn't care, and then there were changes where you push things onto one path or a different one."
"Correct," Dialga said. "And it seems pretty obvious that this one is a chaotic one."
He hurled another slug of time into the past, and everything went absolutely black. Only the glow of those Pokémon who could produce it could be seen, until Giratina pulled open a rift to the Reverse World and illuminated the area more brightly.
The little bubble of time Dialga was sustaining was the only thing left in the world.
"...so, about this idea of yours," Dialga began.
"Dialga!" came a shout from down in the ruins. "If this means I end up with memories of not existing any more..."
"I don't think it works that way," Dialga called back.
"Just change it again! Something with a sun would be nice!"
So, I may have been a little misleading...
The shoulder cuff injury was real and shut down my writing, but I'm kind of a stubborn person where that comes in and it only did so for about four days. I have been a bit slow as a result, but there's a lot more Jewel of Life than you may have been expecting if you read parts 1 and 2 when they went up.
So yeah, changing history sometimes needs multiple tries. And sometimes you end up with SuperMolly.
Or nothing at all.