"Misty," Lance said, with a sigh of relief. "It is good to see you're okay."
"I nearly wasn't," Misty replied, shaking her head. "That was… one of the hardest battles I've ever been involved in."
"I would ask why you didn't get help from us, but I think the answer's obvious," Bruno shook his head. "That was the battle with Team Galactic that you all came back in time for?"
Lance frowned, rubbing his temples. "I… that memory effect is very annoying. You told us about Galactic years ago, but it's only now that I can remember all the conversations."
Misty nodded, glancing over at Ash – now surrounded by even more Pokémon – and assured herself that he was still there.
"Something wrong?" Will asked.
"I think something happened," Lance guessed. "Something bad… but not too bad?"
"Yeah," Misty agreed, her voice husky, then cleared her throat with a cough. "Yeah. Because, we… we thought we'd won, we'd stopped Team Galactic, and then the original Team Galactic showed up. And… they… reduced Ash to a cloud of dust."
She waved her hand at her old friend. "But – but because he's ridiculous, there he is! And I hardly know what to think about it..."
"Sorry, what?" Karen asked. "Your friend came back from the dead?"
"Yeah, again," Misty confirmed. "It's kind of a habit with him, but it never feels normal…"
There was a silence after that, until one of Lance's Dragonites came flying back down to him.
Landing as lightly as thistledown, the Dragon-type made a gesture, and Lance nodded.
"Thank you," he smiled. "It looks like Dragonite can't find anything else hiding out of the way waiting to go after us…"
The Dragon-type trainer and Grand Champion spread his arms. "I thought it was a good idea to double check."
"Oh, yeah, definitely," Misty agreed. "I do not want any more surprises after that..."
"Speaking of surprises," Karen began delicately. "Why can I see a Dialga over there, and a Dialga over there repairing one of the pillars… oh, and a Dialga over there as well wearing a Skitty hat?"
"One of them is the one we're used to, and the second one I think is from the previous timeline?" Misty said, a little more hesitantly this time. "He came with the original Team Galactic from our old timeline. But… the third one's kind of a mystery to me as well..."
The tableau of Pokémon around Ash paused. Suicune, in particular, hesitated – frozen in the middle of licking Ash's face – then decided there was no dignified exit from the situation and returned herself in a flicker of red light.
Ash looked up at the two Lucario who had approached him, then at the half-a-dozen others behind them, and got to his feet. "That's me, yeah – uh, sorry I didn't see you coming..."
"That is not even close to what we wish to discuss," the female stated. "Sir Ketchum, you have done our kingdom such a service that we would not have you feel compelled to rise in our presence; it is that which we wish to address."
She swept her paw around at the scene around them, then pointed at one spot in particular, and Ash spotted a Rapidash half-kneeling awkwardly over the still-stunned form of the Shadow Lucario he'd fought before.
"From all we have heard since we arrived, it is clear; our Lancelot, taken from the heart of our Kingdom and turned to darkness by fell powers, was a principal foe of yours in this battle. You fought him, and you did your utmost to render him harmless without a permanent injury, and now he can be returned to us."
"That was your, uh, Lancelot?" Ash asked. "I… well, I sort of recognized his fighting style..."
"That would be the style of the Lucario Kingdom, I should not wonder," the lord nodded. "Your Lucario would have learned it as a youngster, and parts of it would remain in his style even now."
"But how did Galactic make your Lancelot – I guess that's your champion? - into a Shadow Pokémon?" Pikachu said, from Ash's shoulder. "I thought that was basically impossible."
"So had we," the lady sighed. "Though their fell powers of memory alteration were doubtless involved. If those who were part of this Team Galactic were immune, and those who were not were unable to remember what was going on, then it seems that perhaps the only thoughts he was able to remember were those where he was part of the blackguards' sworn knights."
"...ouch," Ash said faintly. "That… well, I guess it's a good thing it would take the full power of a Lake Guardian to do something like that."
"Indeed, 'tis," the lord agreed. "Though, Sir Ketchum…"
He walked forwards, and put his paw on Ash's shoulder.
"I name you Sir Ketchum in the Lucario Kingdom, as well as your extant titles. Would that I could give you more for your service, but I fear that were I to suggest giving you a charger the competition in the stables would be far too fierce – and you have all else I could give."
"Wait, wait, hold on," Ash's Lucario said. "I… I don't think Ash realizes what that means."
"Then you will have to explain it to him," the lady said, with a smile.
"I can do that!" Raikou declared brightly. "I've visited the Lucario Kingdom before, you know!"
"Please don't," Ash's Lucario replied. "Ash… this is an enormous honour. The Lucario Kingdom only knights Lucario, and only perhaps three or four in every generation."
"That reminds me," the lord said, and put his paw on Lucario's shoulder. "I name you as a knight of the Lucario Kingdom as well; if you want a title with it you can let me know at any time."
Lucario looked like he wanted a good long sit-down, not so much because of the knighthood but because of everything the day had brought.
"What's going to happen to the other Shadow Pokémon?" Entei asked.
"I think that depends who has a claim on them?" Brock asked. "Those Shadow Birds might have a Lugia somewhere whose job is watching over them, and if they don't they might have families… for the others, I guess it's basically the same. If they don't have anyone… I don't know."
"What about that chap with the Orre Beast Trio?" Raikou volunteered. "I seem to remember he had quite a to-do with Shadow Pokémon himself! Maybe he's got some advice?"
Ringing, Dee announced.
"This is going to be so bizarre," Gary muttered, just outside the Spear Pillar portal, then made a shushing gesture. "Wait, there we go."
Dee's projector lit up, showing a mid-air image of Samuel Oak. "Gary? Oh, thank goodness… we thought things were probably going okay because about five or ten minutes ago everyone tore out of here at once. Your Alakazam was doing a lot of the heavy lifting – is he okay?"
"He's fine, Gramps," Gary agreed. "Yeah, Molly managed to break the memory effect… there's so much crazy stuff that was going on, it's going to take ages to explain..."
"Is Ash okay?" Delia Ketchum interrupted. "I was so worried..."
Gary paused, then chose his next words carefully. "He's fine now."
"What do you mean now?" Delia asked.
"He's basically covered in Pokémon at the moment, I'm sure he'll talk to you in a bit," Gary said. "Look, Gramps… there's no easy way to say this."
He turned Dee's camera.
Both Professor Oak and Mrs. Ketchum stopped at once.
"...Gary?" Oak said, after a long pause. "Why are there two of you?"
"Hey, Gramps," the other Gary replied, waving. "I… yeah, this is kind of bizarre and I barely understand any of it. I was right there when Galactic started doing their thing..."
"And the whole bubble of space around Galactic got transported to our timeline," the native Gary continued. "So there's me, and there's… a different version of me. I'd call him a twin except he's several months older physically and several years younger in experience."
"Hey!" the elder boy replied, stung. "Does it count if you live the same time over twice?"
"I got published!" the younger one shot back.
"Both of you, quiet!" their grandfather said sharply, then paused – saying nothing for several long seconds.
Then he started to laugh.
"Gramps?" the newly arrived Gary asked, a little hesitantly.
"It's just – I told him I didn't want to lose a grandson, and now I've gained one," Samuel explained, before shaking his head. "Oh, this is going to be so hard to come to terms with..."
He looked up. "Does that mean your Pokémon got copied, as well?"
"I… guess so," the Gary in question said one hand going to his Pokéballs. "But they all got beaten in that last fight against Galactic – they're exhausted."
"Wasn't that years ago?" the local Gary asked, then blinked. "I mean, uh… you don't look that much older than me, I guess, but it's been something like four years since Ash came back in time…?"
"We were in there for a couple of hours," the new Gary replied. "Cyrus had Dialga do something to time, and we kind of… I don't know. It was after that he told the Lake Guardians to do something, though."
"That explains a lot, actually," Professor Oak mused. "I've been wondering for a while why the memory effect came on suddenly."
He sighed. "Well… this is going to be a massive discussion, and no mistake… not least what we're going to call both of you. Did it happen to anyone else, aside from the Pokémon?"
"And Team Galactic," a Gary pointed out. "But Zoey was there too, so… there's two of her now as well."
He rubbed his temples. "I don't suppose you'd be okay being called Gareth?"
They both thought about that.
"No, probably not."
"I wouldn't like that either..."
"What about this?" Wobbuffet suggested, saluting. "You number yourselves. So that one who came back in time is Gary-uno?"
The physically younger Oak frowned as Dee's earbud translated that, then groaned.
"I didn't get any of that," the older one said. "How did you understand what he said?"
"It's because of his Porygon, Dee," Samuel Oak supplied. "My own assistant Damos translated it for me. Wobbuffet was suggesting that he should be Gary-uno, and you should be-"
"Oh, come on..."
"...I understand that only the humans and Pokémon who were reminded of the previous timeline were actually able to tell what was going on," Ho-Oh said, now done with inspecting Ash very carefully to make sure he was, in fact, alive. "But what about me?"
Question contains unstated assumptions, Mesprit declared. Best guess: you did something with Ash which was sort of similar. Unlikely to be a memory transfer; bond too weak. We didn't get involved. You didn't perceive Galactic.
Basically, Uxie added, doesn't count.
Ho-Oh grumbled something, and then Mawile tapped him on the leg.
He looked down at her, and she hugged his leg with sudden and slightly startling strength.
"You did help out," she said firmly. "You're why Dad's still alive at all. Thank you so much!"
"You got captured by Ash Ketchum?" the Giratina Cyrus had brought with him asked. "Really?"
"Yes," Ash's Giratina confirmed. "It seemed to make sense, given how many Legendaries he had by then."
He shrugged. "It's been interesting to have two memories of what happened with that awful Zero person, though-"
"You're changing the subject," the other Giratina accused.
"All right," Arceus declared. "That's enough of that."
His ring flashed gold for a moment.
"...what just happened?" the Giratina Cyrus had captured asked. "What was that flash for?"
He looked nervous. "Were we arguing too much, or something?"
"I don't think so," Ash's Giratina answered. "You might want to look at yourself, though."
The other Giratina did so.
The tips of his shadowy tendril-wings were now a bright blue, and his armour's colouring had been reversed – gold to silver and silver to gold – while the same swap of red for blue had applied to the bands on his torso as well.
"It's going to be too confusing otherwise," Arceus stated. "Though, speaking of which, I will probably have to make another Rayquaza as well; it seems as though having just one of them is a little too prone for error."
"You turned us shiny?" asked the now-recoloured Dialga, the first question he'd asked since being freed of Cyrus' control. "Is this what a Shiny Dialga even looks like?"
"Correct," Arceus proclaimed. "If the youngest Creation Dragons keep their scarves on, there should be no problem telling the difference. Perhaps I should offer to make the humans shiny as well..."
"Does that mean that the other Arceus is Shiny as well?" the Rescue Palkia asked. "I mean, there's one for this universe, and you're the one from the last universe..."
"There is only one Me," Arceus said. "I am large; I contain multitudes. I am the Arceus who was within the Fortress of Gold and Silver, and the one without."
He paused, tapping a hoof on the crystalline floor and sending ripples of aurorae out through it. "Though perhaps I should consider a Shiny alter-ego. This is the first time I have Fought Crime in many centuries."
"Crying shame we couldn't help," Flint voiced. "Sorry about that, Cynthia. That's half our job and we weren't able to help."
"Don't blame yourselves," Cynthia told him. "The only reason why I could help is something that happened in another timeline entirely – and none of my Pokémon could."
After saying that, she glanced at her Garchomp. "I'm very impressed by how quickly they arrived, actually."
Garchomp grumbled something, and Cynthia glanced down at Laocoon's screen. "I know, but it's easy to think you should have been quicker even when you did the best you could."
"That has been a little strange to get used to," her Lucario said, tearing his attention away from the Royal Knights discussing how best to handle one of their number. "I was so used to translating when you need translation..."
"I think whether you need to get used to it depends on what Laocoon is going to do after this," Cynthia replied. "What's going to happen to you all?"
That is a good question, Laocoon admitted. Is the Lily of the Valley tournament looking for help?
"Hey, that could be good," Aaron said. "A lot of what happens in the League is too fast for me to keep track of."
"I think we might be getting a bit sidetracked," Lucian noted. "How long has all this been going on, Cynthia?"
"Years, really," Cynthia answered. "We haven't been able to pinpoint when the memory effect thing happened, but I got involved months ago. This is actually why I had Lugia training with me – if Galactic came after me, he could fight."
She let out a sharp exhalation, then shook her head. "Well… that's all behind us now."
"Something this big is not going to be behind us for a long time, boss," Aaron said. "You're going to have to tell us as much as you can."
"I'll do my best," Cynthia agreed. "I really will. And I think there might be a book written about this at some point..."
"What happened to Kari?" Pikachu asked, once he'd judged that pretty much all of Ash's Pokémon had had a chance to check he was there. "I know you had her when you got attacked, but you threw her clear and I saw Lucario using her. But then you had her as well?"
"That's… actually a good question," Ash admitted. "I guess I wasn't really thinking about it – I needed her, and she was there."
He reached down to his waist. "Kari?"
The sword Pokémon drew herself, and both blades floated into the air.
"That is my name, but not all of it," she said, one tassel waving a little to show a small section had been cut off – perhaps half a square inch, sliced off as cleanly as with a knife. "It seems a part of me was slain alongside you, and so when you were brought back then so was I."
Her scabbards came together in a clak and a little flash of blue light, forming a crossdraw baldrick, then split apart again. "The part that was wielded by Lucario to avenge you is Kari, and the part that was reborn in fire with you is Burn. They are both me, and yet not."
"I, uh… that's kind of confusing, but I think I get it," Ash said, frowning. "So it's kind of like with Metagross, who has four minds and one personality?"
"A little," the Doublade agreed. "But not. I would be happy to be called she, and Kari, for that is indeed my first name. But in truth 'tis all new to me as well."
She twisted, one blade sheathing itself and the other remaining ready. "I fear, however, that we may need to change your lessons – you have wielded staff and sword, but not sword and sword again, and the two are different."
"Speaking of that staff," Houndoom said, tilting his head a little. "I overheard some of a conversation over there, and I guess that that Riolu who appeared with Arceus is actually Sir Aaron?"
"I – right," Ash winced. "I guess that means I might need to give back his staff?"
"That sounds like something to sort out by asking him," Lucario advised.
Ash looked around, to see where the Rota Lucario and Sir Aaron were, but while he did spot them he also saw Arceus walking over.
A ripple of silence spread out as the Original One approached, and stopped about a foot short of Ash. He regarded Ash with glowing eyes, unblinking, for about five seconds.
Then there was a flash of golden light, and something small and glittering appeared just in front of Arceus' face. It dropped, Ash catching it before it hit the ground, and Arceus nodded in satisfaction.
Ash opened his hand, looking at what he'd caught, and frowned. It was a golden symbol, about two inches across, cool and heavy – clearly made out of actual gold, or something just as dense. It had an odd but familiar shape, an inner continuous ring and a pair of bracket-shapes as an outer ring joined by four spokes.
A fine dark chain was attached to it, making the whole thing a necklace, and Ash examined it for a long moment.
"Uh… what is it?" he asked.
"The chain is iridium, the symbol itself is an alloy of iridium and gold," Arceus declared. "The alloy is less easy to damage than pure gold."
Those metals don't even alloy, Dexter protested.
"They do if I say so," Arceus declared firmly. "It should work like any other."
"Any other what?" Dawn asked. "Uh… I'm sorry, Arceus, but you clearly think we know what this is supposed to be."
Arceus stopped, looked her up and down, then raised His voice. "Dialga!"
"Yes?" three Pokémon answered at once.
"Whichever one of you can get me a Celebi, do so," He requested. "I have to check on something."
"Like what, Dad?" the Rescue Dialga asked. "Where we're going to live? Unless you took Sharpedo Rock with us or something."
"That should be easy," Arceus dismissed. "Just stay at Rota or something. This is a much more serious matter."
"Report," Giovanni instructed.
"Right, boss," James agreed, all business. "We worked out what was going on with the Rocket cells in Sinnoh vanishing."
"It had better be good," Giovanni grumbled. "That assignment can't have taken that long."
"You bet it did, boss!" Meowth replied. "They had a kinda memory effect ting goin' on so hardly any people or Pokémon could even see 'em, or notice somethin' was wrong, and, uh… well, we ain't sure what happened to most of 'em, but a couple of 'em got recruited to Team Galactic."
"And you're almost certainly not going to get them back," Jessie added.
"Not that I would want to," Giovanni mused. "What was this Team Galactic doing, then?"
"We just helped Ash Ketchum and the Sinnoh Grand Champion stop them from destroying the entire universe to make their own one, boss," James supplied. "We don't know for sure what that universe would be like, but they said they wanted one 'without spirit'."
Giovanni was silent for almost half a minute, then took a deep breath.
"Very good," he pronounced. "I take it that the Grand Champion knew you were involved?"
"Pretty sure, boss, yeah," Meowth saluted. "We did break a lot of equipment an' stuff, though."
"Acceptable," Giovanni waved off. "Very good work, then. What else is there to report?"
"Well, there's… a lot more Creation Dragons than there used to be?" Jessie said. "And Arceus turned up."
"Yeah, he's havin' some kind of conversation with Ash right now," Meowth contributed. "So I guess you better plan for that?"
Giovanni looked at the screen for a long moment, then ended the call.
"I think that went quite well, actually," James said, to general agreement.
"I see," Arceus decided. "Very well."
He shook His head. "This is all very annoying. I had thought that humans had remembered My gifts to them."
Well, some did, Celebi pointed out, indicating the time window showing a city in Kalos. But yeah, mostly it was the healing abilities which everyone remembered, and then that became basically redundant once Pokémon centres had reached the point they could heal technologically. So it's sort of died out.
"I suppose the Kalosian group explains why I thought it was still remembered," Arceus mused. "My pool of power for such things was being expended and replenished continually."
He turned back to the mystified group. "My Chosen One, the symbol which I presented to you is a way of channeling a portion of My power. It can be used in many ways, with practice, though I admit that they are all a little hard to learn."
Ash looked at the Arceus symbol, then back up at Arceus Himself. "I didn't know that was even a thing."
"Yes, which is why I have spent the last few minutes looking into why the art faded," Arceus agreed. "I do not command you to learn it, but I suggest it would help."
He tapped His hoof on the floor. "The best way to-"
"Uh, Dad?" the Rescue team Palkia asked. "Sorry to bother you, but I don't want this to get forgotten… where's Rota?"
"What?" Arceus asked. "Has Sir Aaron never told you where he's from?"
"Oh, yeah, he's mentioned that," the Rescue version of Giratina agreed. "But this is our first time in the material universe… and he's not been around here for at least, uh, fifty years?"
"I think it's a lot more than that," May said. "Though admittedly I'm still getting used to the idea that that Riolu is Sir Aaron at all."
Arceus considered that, then nodded solemnly. "You are correct. I considered the topic more important to myself, but it could wait a few minutes."
The divine being's hoof scraped along the floor in a mildly nervous gesture, then he put it down with a final tchak. "Rest assured, I will ensure you are properly settled into this real universe. Until you are, you can stay at my place."
"...wait, hold on, back up a bit," Bruno requested. "You're Arceus. You have a place?"
He looked at the GS Ball. "Is it that? Does that mean Ash Ketchum has had Arceus' house for… however long it is?"
"No, that's completely different," Arceus told him, and turned to trot away. A ripple of golden sparks turned into a portal held open with rainbow light, and Arceus stepped through – into clear air, well above the ground and with no obvious point of reference.
Calculating location, Dexter announced. Based on the position of the sun and the ground below… that is half a mile above the peak of Mount Coronet.
"What's Mount Coronet?" asked the Rescue Dialga.
"A mountain," his Palkia sibling pointed out blandly.
Walking on air, Arceus continued walking until he was about twenty feet away from the portal, then stopped.
High in the air, a tracery of light appeared.
It was insubstantial as moonlight, forming a rigid pattern which had a vaguely rectangular shape. Then the light began to brighten, white light firming up into a structure – a blank white wall two hundred feet on a side with eight marble columns rising from the base, surmounted by a pediment and with half-a-dozen steps rising up to the base of the wall. The lowest step faded at the base into the air, as though someone had taken an enormous staircase and erased all but the top of the last flight.
A double door took shape on the wall, between the centre two columns and at least ten feet across, and Arceus stepped forwards in the air until He touched down gently just in front of the doors.
Then He tapped the stone by the side of the door with His hoof.
Golden light exploded outwards, surrounding the wall with a complete ring of lustrous light that took on a solid form, and out from the ring shot four spokes which joined to two partial ring segments further out.
"Good," Arceus mused to Himself. "The porch light still works."
The door swung open, and what should have been visible on the other side was simply open air – but what was shown instead was a vast, brightly lit basilica of white marble and black metal.
"Behold," He added. "The Hall of Origin."
The portal's far end followed Arceus as He entered the Hall, sunlight streaming improbably in through high windows on all sides of the basilica flanking closed doors. He reached a dais at the head of the room, contemplated it for a long moment, then raised His hoof and struck one of the stones twice.
"There," he said. "Much better."
"What is?" Ash asked.
"Oh, it's nothing important," Arceus dismissed, shrugging his shoulders. "Just something I set up a while ago. Not really worth keeping around any more, especially given how people seem to have stopped using my granted powers."
The divine being rolled his neck a bit. "Nevertheless. It would be useful for you to learn how to use these powers, Chosen One, especially given the events you get involved with on a regular basis."
He contemplated the floor, which was lit with little flashing streamers of gold and rainbow light, then looked up. "Oh, by the way. Dialga, Palkia, Giratina – you should all have rooms in here if you look."
The Rescue Creation Trio made their way through the portal one by one – Dialga darting through in an instant which avoided his having to visibly clamber over the threshold, Palkia warping space so it was large enough to step through easily and Giratina just flying through in Origin Forme.
"Thanks, Dad," Giratina called over his shoulder as he followed the others. "Uh, how do the lights work?"
"It's artificial sunlight," Arceus called to him. "There's a dial to turn it down to diffuse sunlight, or moonlight."
"I wasn't remotely ready to look into the Hall of Origin," Drew said, a bit faintly. "There are artificial suns in there?"
Arceus turned his head to look back through the portal. "No. If I made a sun I would call it homemade. The sunlight just appears from the plane of the window at a downwards angle."
"Oh, okay," Drew replied. "I think? The word okay really isn't remotely appropriate, though..."
"Hey, you guys?" Sidney called. "You know that giant building thing is visible from the ground, right? I just went outside to look – there is no way anyone is going to miss that, unless maybe they're blind I guess?"
"Yes?" Arceus asked. "I left the porch light on because I'm in. It's only polite to do so. I'll turn it off when I leave."
"Is that going to be a regular thing?" Cynthia asked. "It's certainly going to cause comment, I suppose..."
"What, the creator god putting up a big sign saying 'the deity is in'?" Flint snorted. "Of course that's going to cause comment!"
"It's just a porch light," Arceus said. "Would it help if I had a sign which actually said that?"
"No, no, please don't," Flint asked. "I'm not sure I could take it, after what's already happened today..."
Insight, M-002 declared, and sent M-001 a data package.
Interesting! The digital Mew agreed. It seems that we have a confirmation to our hypothesis that there was something going on, and also an explanation as to why we could not adequately explore the implications. That the memory effect described could also affect us is concerning, however.
It is also a positive thing, M-002 stated. We were influenced by the memory effect, which was cast by the Lake Trio. The powers of the Lake Trio function on souls.
You are right, M-001 agreed. That is a positive thing. It is nice to receive empirical validation.
Flipping upside down, the virtual Psychic-type frowned. By the way, are you monitoring the latest guests?
I am monitoring all the guests, M-002 confirmed. It is my job, after all.
I was wondering what you thought we should do about the latest group? Mew asked. They are exhibiting strange behaviour. The Garchomp is attempting to pick a fight with Olympus Mons.
The duo streamed audio from the Garchomp's spacesuit radio for several seconds.
Why does she think that insulting the parentage of an extinct volcano will let her become the earth deity of an entire planet? M-002 inquired. My data on legendary interactions is extensive but that is not one of the elements in it.
I am unaware, M-001 replied. It will be interesting to see what happens.
...and that's why it's called the Fermi Paradox – it is paradoxical because there is no one obvious explanation, Mewtwo said. But it occurred to me that you would likely know the answer, as you were responsible.
Arceus nodded slowly.
"It is an interesting analysis," he said. "Have you heard of the concept of Omphalos?"
I have, Mewtwo replied. The idea that the world was created recently but made to look older.
"Well, that's not the explanation," Arceus told him. "This world is as old as it seems. The universe is the same age, as your science has doubtless confirmed."
I haven't studied all the relevant papers, but – yes, that's fairly well attested, Mewtwo agreed.
"Then, simply put, the explanation is that this particular world is special," Arceus declared. "It's the only one where I placed evolved animal life; it should be the first into space."
I see, Mewtwo replied, nodding. I think, however, I will continue to think about the problem as a problem as well as a solution.
Arceus frowned. "You consider my explanation unsatisfactory?"
I am grateful for the explanation, Mewtwo answered. It has changed my mind. But it has not settled the issue, for me; it has simply made a certain answer to the problem much more likely to be correct."
The Creator tapped a hoof. "Very well. I cannot claim to be infallible, especially not after getting blindsided by several trillion tons of rock; I would simply advise you to not spend all your time seeking a true answer if no evidence would prove that answer for you."
So, in other words, don't sweat it and have fun! Mew declared, twirling her tail around Mewtwo's wrist. Come on, we need to sort out some kind of celebration!
Mewtwo nodded, paused, then raised his free hand to his chin. Hmmm…
He thought, then nodded to himself. Mew? Would you be able to contain yourself on celebrating until after the Sinnoh League?
But that's way more than half an hour away, Mew grumbled, then slumped before spinning himself upright again. Why?
Oh, just an old idea I had about hosting AshCon in Crown City, Mewtwo replied. We might have to rename it, but I think it might be quite entertaining...
"You know what's really strange about all this?" Aaron asked. "It's that… I never really considered the idea that I might be returned from death to life."
"That's not really strange, as such," his friend said, having finally released him from a bone-creaking hug that had lasted about a quarter of an hour. "It's not exactly common. Or so I had at one time assumed."
He looked around. "I count… hmm… Latios, Ash at least twice in this timeline alone, yourself… this is a regular resurrectee meet-up."
"And that doesn't even consider if you can consider everyone who escaped the old timeline by reminding as brought back to life," Aaron mused. "That's a difficult one."
He stretched out a paw, and Lucario enfolded it in his larger one.
"Thank you," the ex-human added. "Before you say it, I know that you're sorry for how you thought of me before. I've already forgiven you – but I want to thank you for… well… being you. For still being you, someone I can rely on to show me around this very different world."
"Didn't you see Ash's memories?" Lucario asked.
"Yes, years ago," Aaron replied. "And since then I've been in a world controlled entirely by the whim of the Creator. I may need an adjustment period..."
"So… I am you," Zoey's Mismagius said.
"As you are me," the other Zoey's other Mismagius agreed.
"As she is she," the first Ghost-type countered.
"And we are all together," the second one finished.
"...are you sure you translated that right?" the local Zoey asked, looking at the Porygon who'd been helping her.
Yes, I did, Rooster told her. It is not my fault that your Pokémon decided to quote the Beatles.
The other Zoey rubbed her temples. "This is so bizarre I don't even."
She sighed. "I… well, I guess we're going to have to learn how to deal with this. And with, uh… names, and all that stuff which we never thought we'd have to deal with. It's a pity we don't have a middle name."
"And explaining it to Mom and Dad is going to be hard, too," the younger Zoey said. "I mean, we look a bit different, because you're older, and I guess handling haircuts to help would be pretty easy, but even so we kind of think of ourselves as the same people."
"Oh, man, I hadn't even thought of that," the elder Zoey admitted. "I was focusing on how they'd react to knowing I was safe without realizing they don't even know I was in danger!"
She groaned. "And… oh, no, I know it's stupid to be worried about but now some of my ribbons are invalid because literally nobody knows they happened..."
"I remember," the younger Coordinator told her, paused, then came over and impulsively hugged her counterpart.
"We'll get through this together, sis," she said. "I know we used to be the same person, but – well, I guess we're kind of twins now or something. And that means we should definitely be there for one another!"
"I'll be there too," Dawn added, having come over. "And… actually, I did have this idea..."
She winked. "You know I actually have experience dealing with someone who looks identical?"
Both Zoeys paused, then the younger one snapped her fingers.
"I remember when you told me about this," she said slowly. "That's kind of different, but… yeah, it's going to help to be able to discuss that. Thanks."
"Excuse me? Sir, do you have a moment?"
Molly looked up, a little nervous as the Original One turned his attention to her, and one of her hands went to her Entei – seeking reassurance in his presence.
"I wanted to ask," she said. "Because when I was making an Unown alphabet, it kind of felt like there were things they wanted to do… sort of, um, naturally? And I wondered if that's what it's like for you."
Arceus regarded her.
"I like you," he said. "I think that's the first time anyone has tried to relate to me on something like that. It's even more impressive that you succeeded."
He nodded his head to her, and a symbol formed in front of his forehead before dropping – it nearly hit the ground, but Molly's Sylveon intercepted it with her tendrils.
It was much the same as Ash's, and Molly looked at it for a moment before returning her gaze to Arceus. "How does it work?"
"That, you already know," Arceus told her. "It should simply make it easier for you, by letting you call on my strength instead of your own."
"Thank you," Molly said. "I'll do my best!"
"I am sure..." Arceus replied, then stopped. He looked down at Sylveon, then held up a hoof.
"Excuse me a moment."
He walked to the back of the Hall of Origin, and a flash of light pulsed through the floor. His hooves clacked on the stone as He walked back towards Molly and her Pokémon friends, and then He nodded to her.
"Thank you for your patience," He said. "I felt that this required a little more gravity."
He summoned His plates, then separated the Pixie plate from the rest. It floated down alongside Sylveon, letting Him compare them side by side.
"Was this Sylveon your creation?" He asked, and both human and Pokémon nodded.
"She really wanted a friend," Sylveon explained. "So she dreamed up an Eevee who could do everything she felt they should, including turning into a whole new type of Pokémon she thought up!"
"That is what I had thought," He mused. "It seems I am encountering many creations that are not My own in recent days. Well, then, Molly Hale – allow Me to commend you most heartily on a job well done, and to offer you My most sincere thanks."
"Thanks?" Molly repeated. "I… sorry, sir, but I don't really understand why you're thanking me."
"For years, this world has been becoming stronger," Arceus explained to her. "In reaction to the danger it faced, and the trouble that was coming – the trouble defeated here by you and by your friends."
He bowed His head. "But the greatest single strength this world had that the mad rulers of Team Galactic did not expect was the Fairy type – the Type which you made yourself, with your Sylveon, and which was so well crafted that it fit seamlessly into My own Creation when she briefly visited it at the Dawn of Time."
Rising back to His full height, Arceus finished His piece. "So yes, Molly Hale. Thank you, for your creation has saved mine – and I do love it so."
"It's going to be funny, adjusting to all this," Ash said, some time later. "It's been sort of in the background, in the past, but there's always been this worry about Team Galactic. And now, well… there isn't. Or there won't be. Or…"
He shrugged helplessly. "You know?"
"I do," Lucario volunteered. "I've been right there with you almost the whole way, though only for the second time around."
"I've been there since the first, and I agree completely," Pikachu added.
"There's so much we need to get sorted out," Ash went on. "And… well, I guess I do need to have a talk with Mom about this. She deserves to know."
"And what if she sends you to your room?" Pikachu asked, only half-jokingly.
"I… don''t know, but I guess I'd probably go," Ash replied. "She's my Mom, and she's been really understanding, so… I don't think she would. And if she did, she'd have a good reason."
"That would be kind of an odd way to end your Sinnoh challenge," Charizard observed.
"There's always next year," Ash answered. "Or, I guess… we've made sure there's going to be a next year."
"That's a really strange thing to hear anyone say," Misty volunteered. "Especially when it's basically true."
She turned to Iris, who happened to be nearby. "Oh, yeah, and try and keep him out of trouble, okay?"
"Pardon?" Iris replied. "Have you seen what Ash gets up to in a typical month? I'll never be able to keep him out of trouble!"
"Well, there's only one choice, then," Misty shrugged. "Go right in there with him and make sure he comes out the other side in one piece."
The young dragon-tamer considered that, then nodded firmly. "I can get that," she decided.
That said, she got Ash's attention. "Hey, uh – do you know if you can remind people and Pokémon now? Because I think this is about when I got Axew last time, and Cilan hasn't been reminded yet."
"I don't actually know," Ash admitted. "It should work, because the Lake Trio are safe now, but I guess the best way to be sure is to actually try it."
Added to the agenda, Dexter supplied.
"I wonder how things are going for him," Iris mused. "He might even be watching this on the news or something."
"How's the pasta coming along?" Chili asked, leaning around the door of the kitchen.
"Nearly done!" Cilan replied, adding the butter and spinach and stirring them in. "Should be another two minutes, no more."
He checked a timer on the wall, which showed there were four minutes until he needed to take the mushroom risotto out of the oven, and Chili vanished back into the main room.
"And that's another starter ready," Cress reported, taking a garlic pizza out of the fire and putting it on the tray for table four. "You okay to handle the kitchen for a minute while I take this out?"
"Sure!" Cilan replied, measuring out the ingredients for the soup table six had ordered. "You go ahead."
As Cress headed out and Cilan context-switched smoothly into serving up the paprika and white wine pasta for table one, Chili came back in.
"We've got a party of three Pokémon out on the balcony," he reported. "Took me a moment to work it out, but they want a lot of gnocci."
"How much is a lot?" Cilan asked, sprinkling the garnish on the two plates of pasta and putting them on a tray for Chili to take out.
"About ten kilos," Chili answered, taking the tray. "With the four-cheese sauce."
Cilan looked around the door to check, and nodded. "I guess it only makes sense that the Forces of Nature would want to eat big."
The risotto came out of the oven and went to the side to cool, and Cilan steepled his fingers before putting a big pan of four-cheese sauce on the hob. "It's gnocci time!"
Despite everything, new things kept coming up – details that had to be explained, friends who had dropped everything and hurried to help but arrived later than the first rush, and the occasional revelation from Arceus or one of his companions from inside the GS Ball about what they'd been doing – and it took a while before Ash was able to sit down with one of his Pokémon for a private chat.
"Hey, Mawile?" he began. "Is it okay if we talk?"
"Sure," Mawile nodded. She reached out to him, giving his side a quick hug, then sat down right next to him and leaned against his side.
"I…" Ash said, then found the words sort of drying up. "Well… I wanted to make sure you were okay, I guess. I wasn't exactly there when it happened, but…"
He stopped, and started again. "You called me Dad?"
"Yeah," Mawile agreed, nodding a little. "When, um, when you… got exploded… it was like..."
She shook her head. "I don't really want to talk about it, but I feel like I have to. And… and you've always been so important to me, but it felt like I hadn't said it and now I'd never get a chance."
The little Fairy-type looked up at him. "I'm sorry, and… uh, is it okay if I call you Dad?"
"Yeah," Ash assured her, hugging her to his side. "That's fine. I… don't really know what Dads are supposed to do, because of what happened to mine..."
"Dads are meant to be strong, and kind," Mawile told him. "They should be the best person in the world, and helpful… there to help us get stronger, but not to make it so we're weaker. They should help us grow, and… if they're not there, there has to be a good reason for it. They have to do their best to come back."
"Wow," Ash said, as she finished her list. "I… that's a lot to live up to, Mawile."
"You already do," she said, giving him another hug. "You're kind, strong, and you make us stronger as well… and you came back."
Ash smiled, blinking tears out of his eyes, and hugged her back.
As you're doubtless aware, this chapter took a lot longer to write.
This is essentially the consequence of my finally slowing down for a bit and enjoying a bit more free time each day.