AGNPH Stories

Rukario Romance by XD385


An Impossible Quest

The rainstorm from the previous night still continued to blanket southwestern Sinnoh, though only as a gentle downpour without lightning. It was as if the very sky itself was aware of the tragedy that had occurred only hours earlier. The storm even seemed to blanket all of western Sinnoh south of the frigid north. Even as far north as the Skydiamond clan grounds.

Tia leaned against a tree, a hand over her right and only eye. She swayed occasionally, hardly being touched by the rain as the tree's branches shielded her from above. A voice spoke, "Lady Tia, what is wrong? You never slept." The Skydiamond Oracle approached her with an expression of worry on her face. Sensing her presence, Tia lowered her hand and looked towards the Oracle. "You should know..." The Oracle stopped at the sight of Tia's eye. It was bloodshot from lack of sleep. 

The Oracle asked, "Lady Tia, is it.....?" The Skydiamond Alpha nodded groggily, "I am.....haunted..." The Oracle nodded, "I have been observing the Angel of Hope constantly since your return. Her heart is devastated, but she remains in control." But Tia sighed, "For how much longer, I wonder..." The Oracle laid a hand on Tia's shoulder, "Do not blame yourself. It was.....fate." But Tia closed her eye, letting a single tear fall. "A child is dead, and a young maiden comatose. All because I spared Outcast from the fate he deserved. I saw them when it happened. I saw that boy die in that maiden's arms..." She clenched her hand into a fist, "If I had only known... I should've eliminated him on the spot."

The Skydiamond Oracle sighed, "The punishment for rape under Skydiamond law is banishment. No one ever expected Outcast to become a lowly murderer." Tia sighed, "I know... But I had a feeling in my gut I shouldn't have spared him... If the Angel of Doom is released because of his actions, it will be my responsibility to stop her. Alone." But the Oracle then shook her head, "My lady, you forget of the legend. Born in sorrow, die in sorrow. That is the fate of the Angel of Hope. Her destiny. This was surely...fated to occur." As Tia contemplated this, the Oracle added, "And if the Angel of Hope is to relinquish control to the Angel of Doom, then it would be wise for you to rest." Tia grumbled, "Yes, you have a point there." She then dropped down and sat against the tree she was leaning against. A moment later, the Oracle could hear light snoring coming from her. "Hmm... Rest. An effective, yet simple cure for insomnia." He/she then leaned against the tree while focusing all of his/her attention for signs of unrest within the Angel of Hope's balance with the darkness.

In the lobby of the hotel in Jubilife City, Rukaria looked out the window at the miserable weather. She shed a few tears, her sorrow only amplified by the rain that cascaded down the window. "Even the sky weeps...... I only knew him for a week, but.... Why did it have to end this way?" A large hand laid upon her shoulder as Chiara asked, "He was a noble boy. Do you mourn him as well?" Rukaria looked up at the midget Lugia, her sightless eyes pouring tears. "He... He reminded me of....." She then turned back to the window and watched the rain fall, "Am I cursed to remain alone....even to the point where my most recent friends are taken away from me?" 

There was a crash as a glass shattered against a wall, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN MY BOY IS DEAD?!" Shadow dodged and weaved around all of Zandria's attacks, "I'm sorry! We really tried! He just.....gave up." But the Zangoose wailed, "YOU'RE LYING!!! WHAT DID YOU DO TO HIM?! BRING MY BOY BACK TO ME!!!" Finally, Shadow managed to grab her right hand, restraining Zandria's claws. However, she then punched him in the face with her clawless left hand. Her vivid pink eyes poured tears while quivering in rage, "WHERE....IS HE?!" Shadow hesitated before muttering, "Why do you strike me? You think I didn't try?" Tears then began to pour from his eyes, "He was...the first real friend I ever had..... You think his passing...doesn't faze me...?" Zandria slowly came to her senses as she watched the hardened warrior weep for his Trainer. She retracted her claws as despair set in. "My boy.... Why....." The Zangoose mother collapsed forward into Shadow's arms, wailing loudly.

Pearl gently caressed her sister's forehead with a damp rag. After a moment, she heard Shadow approach. He muttered, "Zandria's taking the news really hard... What's the news with Ruby?" Pearl sighed, "She's still comatose... She just won't wake up." She touched Ruby's forehead. Her body temperature was unusually low and her breathing was shallow. Her pulse was also weak, but steady. Pearl wiped a few tears away, "It's like her soul died with him...." 

Just then, Pearl turned to face the elevators as Lucash and Sapphire emerged from one. They groggily walked out into the lobby. Pearl tried to smile, "Good morning, you two." Sapphire yawned, "Good morning, Aunt Pearl..." Lucash then spoke, "Is Mommy up yet? I'm hungry." Pearl gulped, "Uh... No, she's still sleeping. Just leave her alone for now. She needs to rest." Lucash's belly rumbled, "But... I really need some food!" Sapphire then took her little brother's hand, "Let's ask Grandma Zandria for some breakfast. You know how good her cooking is." Lucash nodded reluctantly, "OK... But I really want Mommy's milk..." As the two Lucario children headed off in search of Zandria, Shadow sighed, "How will we tell them....?" Pearl only replied, "Don't..... They don't need to know that their father is gone....."

On one of the upper floors, Kazeerah knocked on a hotel room door. "Hey, Lucy. I know ya need some time alone, but do ya need anythin'? Water? Maybe some food?" The only response the Blaziken got was pitiful whimpering. She sighed, "Sis.... I know yer hurt... He was a good kid... But is there anythin' I can do?" There was no change in Lucy's response. Kazeerah sighed to herself, (I've nevah seen 'er hit this hard before... God, what can I do?) She then knocked, "Hey... Sis? I'll be right next door if ya need me. Just knock if ya wanna chat." Kazeerah then walked to the next door down the hall and stepped inside. 

Lucy twisted and turned in bed as she wept bitterly. She covered her eyes with one hand, her tears steadily soaking the sheets below her. She could not get the sight out of her mind. Her most precious friend lying dead, murdered by the very man who had raped her years before. The fact that Outcast was now dead did little to soothe her pain. Even the love and concern of her own sister was not enough to remedy the agony in her heart. "I could've..... I should've gone to him myself..... Maybe I could've...saved him..." Lucy buried her face in a pillow, "It's true..... You never know just how much something is worth to you...until it is gone..."

As Lucy lied on the verge of falling asleep from her exhaustion, a familiar voice spoke in the depths of her mind, "A tragic loss indeed." Lucy remained silent as she heard her darker half speak to her. "So, you have accepted the truth? Was he really just a friend to you?" Lucy paused before replying, " Far more than that..... You were right..... I..... I loved him." The darker tone of her own voice then asked, "And if he were to...propose to you?" Lucy hesitated before replying, "I.... I doubt he would've ever felt that strongly for me, but....." However, her darker half interrupted, "It may be best that you do not think too hard on that. You saw it happen..." Lucy shuddered, "I know..... I should've told him when I had the chance....."

After a moment of silence, Lucy heard her darker voice speak, "But who would've imagined.....that she was the true cause of his demise?" Lucy's right ear shot straight up, "Her...?" The darker voice replied, "Your sister..." At this, Lucy gasped, "Kazeerah?! What did she have to do with it?!" The darker tone of Lucy's voice suppressed a laugh as she muttered, "Wrong sister." Lucy began to think of her companions. Her eyes went wide, "No... Ruby?" The dark voice replied, "Indeed. You heard what she did. She lied to him. Maimed his soul. He would've survived his injuries if she had not broken his heart. You see..... She is the true murderer here."

Lucy felt her blood chill as she heard her dark side mention Ruby. "But...Ruby was clearly sorry for her actions. She..... She even fell into a coma when she...watched him die..." But the darker tone of her voice growled, "Perhaps, but she is still responsible for his death. The death of the one you loved!" Lucy could not bring herself to speak as tears began to flow from her eyes once more. "She must pay. You know what to do."

At her dark side's words, Lucy shook her head, "No... I will not harm her... She a sister to me... She's even in a coma right now. That's more than enough punishment for her sins..." As Lucy wept, the darker voice asked, "Do you pity her predicament? Then set her free. Send her to her lover so that they may be reunited." Lucy froze at this command, "Never...." But the darker voice continued, "Then allow me. Embrace the real you. And I will take all of your suffering away. I promise."

At the promise of sweet relief, Lucy slowly began to relax. But she soon growled, ".....No way...... I won't let it be that way." The darker voice did not speak, but Lucy knew it was listening. "I will, at the very least, respect his memory! I won't harm those he held dear!" At this, Lucy felt the darker part of her mind slip away. She closed her eyes and steadily fell asleep, exhausted from her crying. 

To the west of Jubilife City, Ashton stood in the forest, the rain falling around him as he wore his new cape to shield himself from the elements. He looked down at the corpse of his descendant. Fearful of his and Ruby's children's reaction to the news of his death, Ash had been left where he fell by his friends. Ashton could only stare down at Ash's lifeless body, blood staining his tattered shirt. As he stood in the rain, Ashton gritted his teeth, tears beginning to fill his eyes. "This is low... Even for you, Soul Edge..." 

Ashton thought back to when he first met Ash after successfully wrecking Team Rocket's 'Mega Machoke' mech. "I need to thank you. If it wasn't for you, Pikachu and I would never have become partners. The same goes for every single Trainer in the world." Ashton looked down at Ash as he recalled the Trainer's words of thanks. "You shattered lives. You devoured souls. But to destroy such a beautiful love...?" He shuddered while clenching his fists, "Soul Edge..... Why couldn't you stay gone?!" 

Ashton's mind began to think back to when Ash became possessed by Soul Edge, and later tried to end his own life, fearing that he was a threat to his family. "You did not deserve this.... You should live..." The viscount winced as he recalled his discovery of Ruby's loss of faith, leading to Ash fleeing from her and encountering the Lucario exile, Outcast, who then murdered him. "All this.....because of my greatest error....." But after a moment, a single vision passed through Ashton's mind. "She.... She certainly could..." He then proceeded to make a few hand signs, "Come, Ash. We must be going now." At those words, Ash's hand twitched before planting itself against the ground for leverage.

Some time later, Rukaria stood staring out at the city on the ground floor of the hotel in Jubilife City, having not moved for the past hour. The rain was still drenching the city nonstop, cascading down the window. The blind Lucario maiden sighed, the weather complimenting her sorrow well. But soon, she noticed a familiar form approaching the hotel in the distance. "Guess that's Ashton...... Hm?" Rukaria soon noticed another figure walking just ahead of him. It was a few inches shorter than Ashton. Her sightless eyes went wide as the two came closer, "No way... He's alive?!" 

Ashton and his 'escort' entered the lobby, soaked from the rain. Rukaria could only gaze in disbelief at the two, wondering if she was seeing correctly. A moment later, Chiara walked in. "Ashton, where have you...... W....what?!" As Chiara saw the figure standing before Ashton, the viscount turned to her and asked, "Chiara, where is Ruby?" The Lugia slowly pointed, "She the lounge..." At that, Ashton headed towards where Chiara had pointed with his companion walking in front of him. Rukaria and Chiara then followed close behind them out of curiosity.

Shadow sighed as he watched Pearl remove the damp rag from Ruby's forehead, "If she doesn't wake up soon, we'll need to ask Nurse Joy to put her on life-support." Pearl nodded with a frown, "I know..... Look after her while I go soak this." She then left the lounge and headed to the nearest restroom. But just after leaving the lounge, Pearl passed by Ashton and his companion in the adjacent hall. "Hi, Ash....." At that instant, Pearl froze in her tracks. "Wait... Ash?!" She then turned back to the doorway to the lounge and saw Ashton's companion enter it. "No way.... That can't be him!" But as she ran back to the lounge, Ashton stood in the doorway. He shook his head, "Give them a moment. She needs him."

Shadow glanced up as he heard someone enter the room. "That was quick. Did you contact the Pokémon Center while" He then blinked a few times as he saw someone approaching Ruby. "OK... I think I better pinch myself now to make sure this isn't a dream." The Lucario then gave himself a quick pinch on his nose. "Ow." However, he found that his vision remained unchanged. "Maybe this'll help..." He then proceeded to punch himself across the face. When he found that his vision still remained unaffected, Shadow stared, "Something's wrong here... should be..." The person then stood before Ruby as she lied on the sofa, still in a deep coma. It then reached out to her and tenderly caressed her face. At that moment, Ruby began to stir. She soon opened her eyes and glanced around listlessly. But when her eyes fell upon the face that was looking down at her, she muttered, "It's you.... My darling... Ash."

Ruby pushed herself up from the sofa and wobbled a bit as she stood up on her feet. As she stood before her lover, tears began to cascade down her face. She then threw her arms around him, "You came back... Forgive me... I put you through so much suffering...... Forgive me, dear.... I'm so........ Hm?" She then felt along his back, "W...why are you so cold? And it's not just from the rain...." She then felt along her face and found fresh blood on her nose. Ruby found that the wound in Ash's chest was still slowly oozing blood. "Why have you not healed? What happened to....." She then gazed up into Ash's eyes. She shuddered in a combination of horror and despair as his eyes gazed down at her, no different from the moment he died. Ruby gasped, "You.... You're still....." To Shadow's shock, Ruby punched Ash in the face as hard as she could. The boy staggered back without so much as a grunt while flailing about like a rag doll before stopping while bending over backwards before slowly righting himself. Ruby sobbed, "This is just sick..... You're still just a corpse!" 

Pearl walked towards Ash as Ruby dropped to her knees. "What do you mean he's just a corpse? Ash, look at me. Are you all right?" But as the Lucario maiden grabbed Ash by the shoulder and turned him around, Pearl froze at the soulless stare he gave her. She brought a hand to his face, "You're so cold.....and pale!" She then closed her eyes and focused her Aura. A moment later, Pearl opened her eyes and pushed him away, "His Aura is gone.... Nothing. Why...?" She then turned to Ashton, "Is this your doing...?" He nodded, "Yes... I..." At this, Ruby grabbed Ashton by his shirt and screamed, "What were you thinking?! Do you really think I'd settle for his body alone?! Do I really seem that shallow to you?!" She then sank to her knees while sobbing, "How could you do this to him....."

Ashton grabbed Ruby by the shoulder, "Just listen to me for a second." After gathering herself, Ruby climbed to her feet, ".....what?" Ashton sighed, "Yes... As you can see, Ash is clearly dead. I merely reanimated his corpse with the use of the Dead Soul Jutsu. His body moves according to my will." Shadow then asked, " are a host to the Eternal Flame. Can't you just restore him to life?" Ashton sadly shook his head, "How I wish I could. Only the true source of the Eternal Flame can restore someone to life." Rukaria then walked in and asked, "Then...why?" Ashton turned to face her, "Only Ho-Oh herself can bring him back. And to that, I....." He then set a hand on Ash's shoulder, "I wish to search for her. To restore my descendant to life."

Chiara spoke, "Ashton.... I know you mean well, but..." The viscount turned and gave the Lugia a stern gaze, "This boy is dead because of a mistake on my part. It is my duty to make him live again." After a moment, he spoke, "Please... Gather the others here. They need to hear this. But please do not alert the children. They don't need to see their father like this." Rukaria and Pearl nodded to each other and went about the hotel, searching for their companions. Shadow then asked, "What exactly do you need everyone here for?" Ashton replied, "Wait and see."

Minutes later, Rukaria and Pearl returned with Zandria, Lucy, and Kazeerah. At the sight of Ash standing in the middle of the lounge, Kazeerah smiled, "Whoa, I heard ya bit the dust! Guess yer tougher than we thought." Lucy could only stare ahead at the boy who died to defend her. But at Ash's silence, Kazeerah grumbled, "Hey! I'm talkin' ta ya here! Look at me when I..... Eh?" As Kazeerah grabbed Ash by the shoulder and turned him around, she released her grip on him. "He's so cold... Hey, ya feelin' all right?" When Kazeerah kneeled down so she was eye-to-eye with him, she shuddered at the eerily empty gaze he was giving her. "What the hell..... He's..... He's dead." While Lucy started to break down in tears again, Zandria spoke, "Ashton..... This is your Dead Soul Jutsu..... Why?" He replied, "That is what I need to discuss with you. Now close the door so the children don't walk in on us."

After the lounge had been secured, Ashton sighed, "You all know what has befallen our friend here. He was young. And he left behind much. Friends. Lovers. A son and daughter. Dreams...." After a brief pause, he added, "I feel it is my responsibility to bring him back." Zandria then asked, "But how? Does the Eternal Flame have that capability?" Ashton shook his head, "No..... Even my power of the Eternal Flame does not have the strength to restore a lost life." Lucy then muttered, "" Ashton replied, "Only the original holder of the Eternal Flame can restore him. Mother Ho-Oh herself."

Shadow glanced over at Ashton, "Ho-Oh?! Are you saying you intend to seek her out?!" The viscount nodded, "Yes. She is the only one who can restore our friend here to life. However... There is a problem." Rukaria nodded, "Right... She's hard to find?" Ashton nodded, "Exactly. Ho-Oh constantly circles the globe, seldom resting. And even then, she sets down in only the most secluded locations. I've heard that some have spent their entire lives searching for her, only to come up empty handed after decades of searching." He then looked around, "That is why I wished to tell you. This quest may take weeks or years. But I will not rest until I find her. If any of you feel unprepared for this, I will not hold it against you if you choose to go your separate ways." 

Everyone else in the lounge looked around at each other. Ruby spoke up first, "I... I'll go. I'm the one who put Ash through this hell. I must see him return to us." Pearl nodded, "Me too. I... I want to bear Ash's child. If there's a chance we can bring him back, I'm all for it." Shadow stepped forward, "He is my Trainer and my friend. If there is a chance that he can be revived, I'll go with it." Chiara then spoke, "I doubt I need to say this. Zandria and I support whatever decision you make, Ashton." Rukaria then stepped forward, "I'll go too... I don't.....want to be alone." Ashton then turned to Kazeerah, "What about you two?" Kazeerah shrugged, "I'll admit I wasn't all that close ta him, but..." She then faced Lucy, "Well, sis? Whatcha wanna do?" But to her surprise, Lucy was staring at the floor silently. 

Lucy thought back to when Outcast told her that Ash had tried to keep him away from her using nothing more than his bare hands. (Did he..... Did he really love me...?) She then thought to herself, (Perhaps I should just let him go..... He was just a friend... Not a.....a.....) It was then that she recalled the dance she and Ash had on the ferry from Lilycove City to Mauville City. She was all alone when Ash asked her to dance with him. And at the very end of the dance, he did something that she never saw coming. He kissed her. As tears began to stream down her face again, Lucy relented, (I can't deny it anymore..... It's true. I'm in love....) She then raised her head and gave Ashton an unusual gaze filled with determination. "I... I will stay with you if it means Ash may live again." At this, Kazeerah smiled, "Guess that means I'll tag along too. Besides, I guess I owe that kid big time. No tellin' what would've happened if J got away with me." She then pointed, "But since that's everyone, what's the deal with Ash bein'.....ya know.....dead, but still walkin' like he's OK?" Ashton shrugged his shoulders, "It beats having to carry him everywhere, right? As long as the Dead Soul Jutsu remains in use, he will follow me everywhere." But Ruby then spoke up, "Forget it. I won't stand for my husband being used like a puppet!"

Everyone turned to Ruby, who growled, "Release that.....spell or whatever. I'll carry Ash myself." Ashton replied, "I would not recommend that." Pearl then asked, "Why not?" Ashton explained, "While the Dead Soul Jutsu is in use, the body will move about on its own without any need for us to carry it around. And to top it off, the corpse will not decompose either." He then smirked as he looked at Ruby, "Would you prefer to carry around a steadily rotting corpse, putting up with the festering rotten flesh and the stench? Not to mention running the risk of being mistaken for a grave robber?" Ruby's eye twitched at Ashton's explanation before she replied, "I....uh.... I vote for the.....something spell." Ashton smiled, "Wise decision. But if any of the children ask, Ash is merely ill with something." 

As Ashton led his companions out of the lounge and towards the lobby, Shadow asked, "Um, any idea on where we should start looking for Ho-Oh?" After thinking this over for a moment, Ashton stopped in his tracks, "Rukaria." The blind Lucario maiden stopped, "Yes?" Ashton nervously asked, "I will probably hate myself for asking this, but.....does the Ironspike clan have any information on Ho-Oh's whereabouts?" She replied, " While they know much about you, the members of my clan chose to not research Ho-Oh out of respect. They understood that someone with a cruel heart may use the information to track her down and enslave her, so they did not attempt to gather any information that could be dangerous to her wellbeing." Ashton breathed a sigh of relief, "I see... How very...noble of them." As Ashton continued down the hall, Rukaria asked, "Sir Ashton, are you still sore about that? I'm sorry, OK?! It won't happen again! It was a one-time only thing!" He grumbled in response, "Sure it was... Until I get mobbed by several dozen of you..."

Upon reaching the lobby, everyone waited for Lucash and Sapphire to join them. They did not wait long as the two Lucario children emerged from the hall. Lucash sighed, "Wow... Grandma makes awesome waffles." Sapphire then looked towards the group, "Mommy, you're awake! Did you sleep well?" Ruby nodded, "Yes. So well, I didn't want to wake up." Lucash then ran over to his father and gave him a hug, "You were out all morning, Daddy. Where've you been?" Ashton gulped as he discreetly made a quick gesture. In response, Ash reached out and tenderly rubbed his son's head. But the Lucario child raised an eyebrow, "Daddy, why are you so...cold?" Chiara gulped, "Um... Your father has fallen ill and has an unusually low body temperature at the moment. He is also prone to exhaustion and does not speak well right now." Lucash then looked up at his father to see him looking down at him with a blank expression, his lifeless eyes half-open. Lucash smiled, "OK. I'll be gentle." 

Ashton spoke, "Now then, is everyone here and accounted for?" Everyone raised a hand. After a quick head count, Ashton nodded, "Yes, that seems to be everyone. Now then, we're heading out now, so if there is anyone who does not yet have their belongings together, please return to your rooms and retrieve them. We will then regroup at the eastern gates of the city." With a nod, Kazeerah, Rukaria, and Chiara headed for the elevator and took it up to the upper floors to retrieve their gear and belongings. As the others went outside, Ashton asked, "Anyone know of a good place where we can start looking?" Lucy replied, "I think Oreburgh City would be a good place to start. It's directly east of us." With a nod, Ashton led the group to the east. Much to his surprise, he found that the rain had stopped. A little sunlight was beginning to shine through the clouds.

Later that evening, everyone gathered around a campfire as Zandria cooked up dinner. She spoke, "Tonight's special is ramen. Enjoy." Lucy smiled, "Ramen? My favorite!" As everyone began to slurp up their noodles, Lucash noticed that Ash was just leaning against a tree nearby. "Daddy? Don't you want some of this? It's really good!" However, the young father did not offer a response. Lucash then stood up and carried his bowl over to him. "Here you go, Daddy. Open wide." He then raised a fork with tangled ramen to his mouth. Seeing this, Ashton spoke up, "Your only eat a special diet while he is ill. Ramen on his menu." Lucash nervously smiled, "Oh. Uh...OK! Sorry, Daddy." The Lucario child then took a seat back around the campfire with his ramen and continued eating. 

After the pot had been emptied of noodles and most of its broth, Zandria dumped the pot's remaining contents. "Anyone know of a river or something nearby?" Kazeerah nodded, "Just a lil south of us. A cozy lil brook. Ya can't miss it." The Zangoose smiled, "Thanks!" But as she carried the pot away, Ashton spoke up, "I'll come along too. Ash, this way." At Ashton's command, Ash climbed to his feet and followed after his ancestor.

After trekking through the forest, Ashton and Zandria came to a flowing stream along a sandbank. "Perfect. Just what I was looking for." Zandria ran over to the water and submerged her pot while rubbing the inside with a rag. She then looked back at Ashton as he examined Ash. "Why'd you bring him along?" The viscount replied, "See for yourself." Ash then raised his arms, allowing Ashton to yank his shirt off. Zandria gasped as she saw fresh blood drip from the black undershirt. Ashton sighed, "As I thought." Blood was slowly oozing from a small gash in Ash's chest over where his heart was. "Since his body is dead, he can no longer heal. That wound will never close, allowing his blood to spill. I'm amazed his children never noticed his blood constantly soaking his shirt." 

Ashton walked over to the stream and shook the undershirt under the surface, trying to get the blood out. "Zandria, fill that pot with water and wait for me." Zandria nodded and filled her cooking pot as full as she could without making it too heavy for her to carry. Once Ash's shirt had been effectively rinsed, Ashton tossed it onto a large rock nearby and approached the corpse. In response, Ash lied down on his back. Ashton then kneeled down next to him and seemed to examine the wound on his chest. "This should do it." With a deep breath, Ashton blew a very small Flamethrower at the wound. Zandria gagged as the odor of burning flesh filled the air. As expected, the flesh around the wound on Ash's chest ignited. After several seconds, Ashton called, "Now! Douse him!" As instructed, Zandria hobbled over to them and dumped the load of water she carried onto her descendant. The flames were instantly snuffed out. Ashton then took a closer look at the corpse before him. The flesh around the wound on Ash's chest had been scorched black, but at the same time the flesh had melted a bit over the wound, effectively sealing it. "That should stop his blood from flowing." He then retrieved Ash's black undershirt and slid it back over him. "Did you finish cleaning that pot yet?" Ashton turned to Zandria. She nodded, "Yeah. It's ready for breakfast tomorrow." With a nod, Ashton motioned for Zandria to follow him back to their companions with Ash in tow.

After a few minutes of walking, Zandria froze. Ashton noticed his Zangoose lover's sudden halt and stopped. "Something catch your eye, Zandria?" The Zangoose replied, "More like caught my nose." She sniffed the air again. "This faint scent..... It smells" Ashton asked, "You? A Zangoose?" But she shook her head, "No... Spectral. It's a scent I got used to after taking on this form as a specter." Ashton shrugged his shoulders, "So you smell...a ghost?" Zandria nodded, "Just up ahead." She then dropped to all fours and slowly made her way ahead while trying to remain silent. Ashton followed after her as quietly as possible. 

After a short walk, Zandria stopped behind a tree. "Over there. See it?" Ashton peeked out from behind the tree to look ahead. "Hm? Just a Lucario?" Standing ahead of them was what seemed to be a Lucario. However, it was looking north. Zandria whispered, "Is it watching the others? Should I kill it?" Ashton chuckled, "How? The chap is already dead, right? Hold on, I'll speak to him." Ashton then stepped out from behind the tree and casually approached the Lucario. "Excuse me, sir. Are you lost?" The Lucario jumped slightly and looked over its shoulder. Ashton raised an eyebrow at the sight of its eyes. Instead of red, they were a royal purple. And now that he was closer, Ashton noticed that the Lucario had a sword in a scabbard that was strapped to its back, the hilt extending over its right shoulder. But the Lucario then surprised him as it spoke, "Sir? I'm afraid you have the wrong sex." The Lucario then turned around to face him, revealing her feminine upper body. Ashton blushed, "Oh..... My apologies, madam." 

Ashton bowed before the Lucario, "I had assumed that you were a man at first glance." Ashton then noticed that there were more peculiarities of the Lucario. The coloration of her fur brought to mind Lucy when she assisted him against Ash while he was possessed by Soul Edge, although the hues were not as bold. The fur on her upper arms, upper legs, head, and tail that were supposed to be blue were a pale gold color. The fur that covered her upper torso was, instead of yellow, a lovely turquoise blue. The black fur on her body was also a slightly paler tone than normal as well. "You...have quite an unusual color scheme, miss." But it was then Ashton noticed something else. He brought his hand to the top of her ears and measured her height. She was only barely below the base of his neck. "Miss, how tall are you?" The Lucario replied, "Last I checked, five feet." Ashton let out a whistle of surprise before looking back over in Zandria's direction and calling, "It's fine! She's not a threat!" At his words, Zandria came out from behind the tree and approached them with Ash behind her.

Upon approaching the Lucario, Zandria spoke, "Wait... You're a woman?" The Lucario nodded, "Yes. I mean, isn't it obvious?" Zandria laughed, "Now that you're facing me, yes!" Ashton then asked, "Excuse me, miss. What is your name?" The Lucario smiled, "My name is Shield." Zandria raised an eyebrow, "Shield? How'd you end up with a name like that?" The Lucario explained, "My husband's nickname was 'Sword', so I was called Shield. We were blacksmiths with our own preferences." Zandria then asked, "OK... But why are you here?" Shield replied, "Pardon?" Ashton explained, "Zandria here is really a ghost of sorts. A specter. And she can detect the presence of other spectral entities." Zandria pointed at Shield, "You smell just like me. Are you a ghost or not?" Shield hesitated before replying, "You got me." As she said that, Shield dispersed into a cloud of white mist. The cloud then moved along Ashton's feet and reformed behind them. "I am a specter. I've been dead for quite some time."

Shield asked, "Does the fact that I am dead scare you?" Ashton chuckled, "Of course not. Even if you are dead, you seem very much alive to us." Shield let out a giggle, "Very true! Sometimes I even forget that I am a specter." But at that moment, Ashton noticed something about Shield that he had overlooked. The spike on her chest seemed to be missing. "Shield, did you never grow in your chest spike?" The Lucario looked down at herself and replied, "Oh, that? I did grow it in, but I lost it due to an accident in my forge. Not a big deal, really." Ashton nodded in agreement, but soon noticed something while staring at her chest. Her turquoise fur seemed to be straining against her shapely breasts. "Er..... Your fur looks a bit odd. Why does it seem to not be attached to you?" Shield chuckled, "Because it's not! Upon evolving, the fur on my torso and upper legs became a vest and a pair of shorts." She then asked, "But since I have introduced myself, it would only be fair for you to do the same." Ashton nodded, "True. I am Ashton Redford Crimson. But please, do not refer to me by my last name..." At the mention of his last name, Shield's eyes went wide. "Crimson? Wait..... Ashton Redford Crimson..... The name of the Vulcan Warrior?" Ashton began to sweat nervously, (Oh man, is she....?) He then asked, "Um... Which clan do you hail from?" Shield replied, "The Ironspike clan. Why?" He then quickly backed away, "Not you too! Don't you dare go wild on me!" Shield asked, "Judging by your!" She then noticed a sword's hilt extending up over his right shoulder from under his cape. "Sir...... Answer me truthfully. Are you.....THE Vulcan Warrior?" Ashton hesitantly nodded, "Some called me that. Others refer to me as the Angel of the Eternal Flame."

At the mention of Ashton's title, Shield's eyes went wide in wonder. The viscount stood ready, prepared for an outburst of any sort. But instead of going wild in admiration, Shield calmly smiled, "It is an honor, sir. I never dreamed I would actually meet the legendary Vulcan Warrior in the flesh." Ashton gulped, "Well..... This is a pleasant change. You're much more in control of yourself than that Rukaria was." Shield smiled, "Ah, yes. How is she? Have you been treating her well?" Ashton raised an eyebrow, "Hm? I know you share the same clan, but..... Do you actually know her?" Shield nodded, "She was my apprentice. I taught her how to forge weapons. She showed you her Hyup Do, did she not?" Ashton looked back to the north for a moment, "You taught her how to make that?! Your skills with the hammer and forge must be impressive for her to have acquired the skill to craft that work of art." She then turned to Zandria, "And your name..... Zandria? Does that make you the Zangoose who bore the child known as Atlas?" Zandria chuckled, "I'm amazed you know that much about me and my boy. Yes, I am Zandria." Shield stepped forward and shook her hand, "It is an honor, my lady."

Ashton then asked, "Now that I think of it, how do you know Rukaria?" Shield replied, "I knew her in life when she was just a little girl. Her mother's name was Solaria and her father's was Frederick. My husband and I never had any children of our own, so I came to view Rukaria as my own over time." She sighed, "I guess.....that is why I'm still here. I couldn't leave her alone like that." Ashton then asked, "If that is the case, would you accompany us back to her?" But Shield shook her head, "No, not now. I only reveal myself when Rukaria absolutely needs me. Please do not alert her to my presence." Ashton nodded, "If you insist. Zandria. Ash. Come." But before the three could leave, Shield spoke out, "Um, a moment, Sir Ashton." The viscount stopped and faced her, "Yes?" She asked, "May I...examine your weapons?" 

Ashton raised an eyebrow at her request, "I beg your pardon? My weapons?" Shield nodded, "As a blacksmith, I am naturally curious of all sorts of weapons and armor. I may also be able to find any problems or damages to them. Please, sir." Ashton glanced at Zandria, who nodded while extending the claws on her right hand as a precaution. Ashton then nodded to Shield, "Very well, but we'll start small." He then reached for something behind his right hip. A moment later, he held out a leather pouch. "Take a look." Curious, Shield took the pouch and opened it. Inside, she found multiple black kunai daggers and shuriken. "Hmmm. These are weapons of the Far East, are they not?" Ashton nodded, "Yes. Being one who has been trained in the use of Ninja Arts, I carry with me various ninja tools." Along with the kunai and shuriken, Shield found steel wire and numerous slips of paper with incantations written on them in black ink. She took one such piece of paper in hand, "What do you call these?" Ashton gulped, "Handle those with care. They are..." But before he could finish, the slip of paper she held ignited at one end. "PAPER BOMBS!!!"

Ashton, Zandria, and Ash took cover behind some trees. Instinctively, Shield closed the pouch and threw it away from her. An instant later, the paper bomb detonated, engulfing the immediate area with a fiery explosion. After the blast had run its course, Ashton peeked out from behind the tree and saw that nothing remained of Shield except for a puff of white mist. "Um..... Shield?" A voice replied, "Those paper explosives pack quite a pop, don't they?" The mist quickly solidified, taking on the form of the Shiny Lucario. She then gasped, seeing that some of the trees were beginning to burn. Ashton extended a hand, "Allow me." As he closed his hand into a fist, the flames steadily shrank until they were no more. Shield only stared silently in awe as Ashton turned to her and asked, "My gear?" Shield silently pointed in the distance. In response, Zandria dashed over to the spot the Lucario was pointing at and retrieved the pouch. Upon bringing it back to Ashton, Zandria smirked, "And to think I thought you were a goner. I guess specters really do have nothing to fear." 

Once Ashton had placed his pouch of ninja tools on the back of his right hip, he spoke, "Now then, do you wish to examine something more refined?" Shield nodded, "Yes, sir!" In response, Ashton gripped the hilt of the Flamberge and pulled it out from under his cape. "This is the Flamberge. Grip it with both hands, if you please." Tenderly, Shield gripped the hilt with both hands. Being a Fighting type Pokémon, she was unfazed by its weight. She then began to eye the blade and hilt while moving the sword around on various angles. "Exceedingly high quality steel with no impurities. Perfect pattern of grooves in the flame blade design with no errors. Sturdy oak wood composing the hilt. Still very sharp and not a hint of rust." She then looked at Ashton with a gaze of amazement. "Sir Ashton." He replied, "Yes?" The Lucario blacksmith spoke, "This is one of the finest weapons I have ever held, if not THE finest. I find it hard to believe that this blade was forged around 600 years ago and is still in such great shape." She then handed the sword back to him, "If it is ever in need of repairs or tempering, I would be honored to lend my services to you." Ashton gave her a grateful smile, "Should a time come where I need such aid, I will let you know promptly." He then placed the Flamberge on his back with only the hilt sticking above his cape.

Ashton smiled, "You truly have an eye for fine weapons, Shield. This sword was quite costly for me to commission." But before he could say anything else to her, Shield noticed what seemed to be a sword's hilt slightly extending past his left hip. "Seems I missed one. May I examine that sword as well?" Ashton quickly glanced at where Shield was pointing, but soon shrugged, "Normally, I do not let strangers hold that one. But you did not attack me when handling my ninja tools. I believe that warrants an exception." Ashton then drew the sword from its scabbard and held it out to her. As Shield took the sword in hand, she gasped, "This two-pronged blade. This blue coloration..... Is this...Soul Calibur?" A woman's voice replied in a sage-like tone, "Indeed." Shield froze for a moment before speaking, "This is a blacksmith's dream come true... I'm actually holding the spirit sword in my hand..." 

After regaining her composure, Shield began to examine Soul Calibur closely. "...............this is....." Zandria asked, "What is? Did you find something?" The Lucario replied, "I can't even begin to imagine what this is made from! This alloy is utterly mysterious! I am at a complete loss of words." She then handed the spirit sword back to Ashton, "I apologize. I could not effectively judge this blade." But the viscount smiled as he returned the sword to her scabbard, "Don't be. I wasn't expecting you to understand it." He then held out his hand, "A pleasure meeting you, Miss Shield. I hope we meet again." The Lucario gave him a hearty handshake, "As do I, Sir Ashton. I will be nearby should you need me. Just please do not speak of me to Rukaria." The viscount nodded, "If you insist. Come, Zandria." Ashton turned to the north and continued on ahead with Zandria by his side. But before they could get far, Shield called out, "Hold on a minute! Who's this? I almost didn't notice this boy." 

Ashton turned around as Shield stood before Ash. "He is ill at the moment. Do not mind him if he does not say much." Shield sighed, "Poor lad. I hope you heal up soon." At that moment, Ashton eyed the sword on Shield's back. "Shield. A moment?" The Lucario turned to him, "Yes?" He then pointed, "Seeing as how I showed you my weapons, I believe it would only be fair for me to examine yours." Shield was at first baffled, but then remembered the sword on her back. "Oh, yes! Completely slipped my mind!" She then drew the sword from its scabbard and held it out to him. "Take your time." Ashton carefully took the sword in hand and looked it over.

Shield's sword was a single-handed sword with a fairly slender blade. The hilt was a bronze color and had a pointed tip. The cross-guard was quite long and curved upward like horns. The blade itself was a lovely blue color, but not the same shade as Soul Calibur. Ashton fiddled with the hilt, "I can't help but suspect there is something to this sword that I am!" As he twisted the hilt some, the blade fell apart and went slack as it broke into eight segments with a steel wire running through them, connecting them to the base of the hilt. "Well, hang bananas from my neck and call me Tropius. It's a snake sword!" 

Zandria looked at the strange sword as the blade hung down like a vine. "A snake sword?! Just like Black Mist, huh?" Ashton nodded, "Yes... It brings to mind the Viper Edge she wielded. Never imagined I would see a different one." He then turned to Shield, "And what do you call this particular model?" The Lucario smiled, "This style of snake sword is called a Mirage Blade." Ashton then held the sword out to her, "Interesting. I would put this back together, but....heheheh..." Shield calmly took her sword in hand. With a quick flick of her wrist, the eight segments of the blade retracted, becoming whole again. After returning the Mirage Blade to its scabbard, Shield grinned, "You take care, Sir Ashton. May we meet again soon." With a friendly wave, Ashton led his two companions back to camp to the north.

That night, everyone was sound asleep after setting up camp. But as Ashton slept in Chiara's embrace while she slept on her back, his right eye popped open. "Young master, your sword of the flame has been taken away." The voice of Soul Calibur whispered in his head. While hardly moving, the viscount scanned his surroundings. The campfire in the center of the clearing the campsite had been set up in still burned weakly, providing a little light. When he glanced at the tree he had left the Flamberge leaning against, he saw that it was indeed no longer there. Curious, he examined his sleeping companions. Sitting against a tree was Ash's corpse while Lucash slept near him, still believing him to be alive. Much to Ashton's surprise, Shadow was sound asleep as well. "So much for the sentry....." 

After scanning his companions a bit longer, Ashton noticed that Ruby's sleeping bag was empty. "Ruby? With the Flamberge?" Not wanting to awaken Chiara, Ashton made a hand sign. A second later, Chiara was embracing Kazeerah in her sleep, the Blaziken completely unaware of the change. Nearby, Ashton smiled, "She's probably similar in size and weight to me." He then gripped the hilt of Soul Calibur, "Which way did Ruby go?" The spirit sword replied, "Northeast." Without a word, Ashton dashed through the trees in the direction Soul Calibur had pointed him in.

In a small clearing, Ruby tightly hung the Flamberge from a tree branch that was sturdy enough to hold it with numerous vines. After waiting for the sword to stop swaying, she carefully lied on her back while making sure her head was parallel to the blade. She then gently gripped a sharp stone in her hand. "I'll be right there, dear..... I'll prove that I still love you." With a very careful aim, the Lucario threw the stone at the vines, cutting the Flamberge free. With a calm smile, Ruby closed her eyes. 

There was the sound of a heavy blade striking the ground. A few seconds passed before Ruby realized that the blade did not strike her. "Wha... I know I was right under it." After opening her eyes, Ruby found the massive blade of the Flamberge embedded in the ground right next to her head, barely touching her. She sat up, "For the love of.... WHY?!" Upon closer inspection, Ruby noticed a line of engravings along the blade. "What's this? To defend the beloved and slay the wicked?" She growled, "What is this, a safeguard?!" The young mother yanked the sword out of the ground and tried to strike herself on the head with the blade. "You're a sword! Kill me!" However, no matter how hard she strained, the Flamberge would constantly resist her or otherwise miss. "Fine. If you won't strike me, I'll strike you." 

Minutes later, the Flamberge was sticking straight up out of the ground, its round pommel firmly buried in the ground. Ruby nodded, "That should do it." She then climbed the closest tree and bounded from branch to branch until she was a good fifteen feet off the ground at least. She carefully walked to the edge of a branch that was directly overlooking the Flamberge. The young mother took a deep breath and closed her eyes, "Just a minute more, dear. I'll see you soon." With that, Ruby fell forward and fell towards the Flamberge with the intention of impaling herself upon it. 

Much to Ruby's shock, she hit the ground hard in a belly flop, knocking the wind out of her. After catching her breath and recovering from the force of the impact, she looked up and saw Ashton standing before her with the Flamberge in hand. "It is not wise stealing a warrior's sword." But the Lucario begged, "What are you waiting for...?" As she slowly climbed to her feet, Ruby screamed, "KILL ME!!!" Ashton took a step back, but soon placed the Flamberge on his back, "I don't think Ash would approve of that." But Ruby wept, "What are you talking about?! I deserve it! Do it! Please!"

Ruby practically dropped to her knees and begged Ashton, shedding a river of tears. The viscount only looked down at her in pity, "Why...?" The young mother cried, "Because it was my fault... I was too obsessed over the past... If I had just let the past go, he never would've run off. He never would've run into that assassin. And he never would've died! It's all my fault! I'm the one who killed him!" She dropped to her hands in sorrow, "He saved my life. He gave me a reason to live. He gave me his children....... And as thanks, I killed him! It should've been me!" By then, Ashton let out a sigh and slammed the flat side of the Flamberge onto Ruby's head, sending her face into the ground. "Enough of this! I already told you, did I not?! We are searching for Ho-Oh. She will restore him!" 

As she rubbed her head, Ruby climbed to her feet, "Yes, I haven't forgotten. But do you think we can really find her?" Ashton remained silent. "Ho-Oh constantly circles the globe! What are the chances of us actually finding her?!" She then sobbed, "Face it.... Ash is gone... Forever..." As he watched Ruby weep, Ashton frowned, "So be it..." He then turned to leave, "Thirty days."

Ruby looked up at Ashton, "Thirty...days? What?" The viscount turned to face her, "If we are unable to locate Ho-Oh in thirty days, I will revive Ash myself." Ruby gasped, "Wait... So you CAN revive him?" She grabbed his hand, "Well, what are you waiting for?! Let's go!" But Ashton grumbled, "Hold on. You didn't let me finish." The Lucario stopped pulling, "What else is there?" Ashton explained, "It is true. I can revive Ash by transferring my own power of the Eternal Flame into him. However......" He looked to the night sky, "To do so is the same as slitting my throat. Transferring enough power of the Eternal Flame into another to revive one from death results in death for the donator. And I have died once already. If I were to do it again......"

At Ashton's revelation, Ruby froze. "You would.....give up your life...for my lover?" Ashton slowly nodded, "I view him as my own... And it will not be a permanent demise. I will return in 500 years time." But Ruby pleaded, "But what of Zandria?! And Aurora?! And Chiara?! What about them?!" Ashton sighed, "I know. It has been less than a year since I was reunited with them." He bowed his head, "Would they be able to endure another 500 years in my absence after such a short reunion?" Ruby remained silent for a moment before speaking, "Ashton... You don't have to do this... It was my fault. You should not have to pay for my mistakes....." But the viscount began to walk away, "Thirty days. I will go with your decision when the time comes."

As Ashton walked out of sight, Ruby looked to the night sky and pleaded, "Ho-Oh... Please, let us find you in time....." She then slowly followed after the viscount, her heart heavy with remorse and dread.

To the west in Canalave City, a large cargo vessel docked just before midnight. But as the crew started to unload the cargo, no one noticed a cloaked figure leap from the ship and run down a mooring rope before slipping away into the darkness before running east. "That dark presence again. Twice in one week. Hope this isn't a bad sign..." As the cloaked figure ran, the moonlight was reflected off of the spikes on the back of the figure's black furred hands. "Hang on, sister... I'll find you yet."

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