AGNPH Stories

Rukario Romance by XD385


The Deadline

The sun began to rise over Oreburgh City as Ashton gazed out from his hotel window. He sighed in disappointment and despair. He and his companions had searched every source of information in the city, with Chiara even going so far as to search online for the data they needed. Aurora's return did nothing to aid in their search. Even after four weeks since they began seeking out Ho-Oh, Ash's resurrection was still beyond their reach. The phoenix was proving to be just as elusive as Ashton had claimed.

Zandria woke up and glanced around, seeing Ashton staring out the window at the city. "Ashton..." The viscount turned to face her, "It has been nearly a month since that night. And we are still no closer to finding Ho-Oh than we were when the search began." He then slowly started to get dressed, "Gather your gear. We aren't going to find what we're looking for if we remain in Oreburgh City." Zandria nodded, "Where should I tell the others to gather?" Ashton replied, "The lobby..... No, wait... The rooftop plaza." The Zangoose nodded before leaving the hotel room to spread the word. After dressing himself in his traveling attire, Ashton sighed, "Five days left....."

Ten minutes passed as Ashton waited on the hotel's roof with Ash's corpse by his side. His eyes scanned past the tall fence that barred access to the very edge of the roof. He saw the Oreburgh Gate to the west, now seeming much taller than he recalled. When he looked to the east, Ashton could see in the distance what seemed to be a long mountain range that spanned from north to south. He muttered, "Strange... What could that be...?" Moments later, he turned to the stairs as all of his companions emerged, excluding Lucash and Sapphire.

Ruby's eyes glanced over at her lover's corpse longingly before turning her attention to Ashton. "You called for us?" He solemnly nodded, "Yes... Please, make yourselves comfortable." Everyone took a seat around the various tables that were provided on the rooftop. Chiara then asked, "Now then, what is it you need to discuss with us?" Ashton then looked at Ash's body, "We have been searching Oreburgh City for information for a good four weeks. And even after all that time, we have found no leads that may point us towards Ho-Oh. Even Aurora's search of the entire region proved fruitless." He then began to pace back and forth, "Oreburgh City is a dead-end. We will be wasting our time if we remain here." He then stopped and turned to face everyone. "If anyone has an idea of where we should search next, now is the time to say it. Any suggestions?"

Lucy raised a hand, "Um... I may have an idea." Ashton then pointed towards her, "Very well, Lucy. Where do you suggest we search?" The Lucario maiden explained, "To the northwest... There are a pair of islands that are mostly uninhabited. They are known as Fullmoon Island and Newmoon Island. Humans very rarely visit them, so I believe Ho-Oh may view them as ideal spots to rest at." This suggestion made Ashton bring a hand to his chin, "Uninhabited..... Yes... Secluded locations. If anyone knows of locations that are difficult for humans to reach, speak them out." Chiara spoke next, "Stark Mountain may suit a phoenix well. It is a volcanic mountain that few ever approach. It is located to the northeast. We will have to travel by sea to reach it though." Ashton nodded, "Thank you, Chiara. Are there any other suggestions?" Just then, Kazeerah nearly punched herself in the beak, "Aw man, how'd I ferget about that?!"

Everyone's eyes fell upon Kazeerah at her sudden outburst. Rukaria asked, "Forget? About what?" The Blaziken replied, "It's so obvious! I should've mentioned it when y'all started lookin' fer Ho-Oh in the first place!" Ashton asked, "And what is it that you just remembered?" Kazeerah stood up, "Pretty dumb of me ta ferget, really. There's one place in Sinnoh that no human has evah been able ta reach, as far as I know." Ashton's eyes went wide in fascination, "And what is this location?" Kazeerah grinned, "The summit of the infamous Mt. Coronet." Chiara smiled, "Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant!" Pearl then asked, "And where is this Mt. Coronet located?" The Blaziken then pointed to the east, "Y'all can see it from here."

Ashton gazed out at the distant mountain range. Kazeerah then explained, "That whole mountain range is part of Mt. Coronet. The summit is right in the middle of it. The summit is also the absolute highest place in the Sinnoh region. I once tried ta climb it fer kicks, but it got really tough somewhere and I had ta turn back." She then turned to face Ashton with an expression that was completely serious. "It's not a place fer the casual explorer. Ta be honest, I don't recommend tryin' ta get up there." Ashton paused for a moment before nodding, "If it is indeed as difficult to reach as you claim it is, then the summit of Mt. Coronet is our next destination." He then gave everyone a reassuring smile, "It feels as if this is a solid lead to me... Gather your belongings and other gear and we will meet in the lobby." After Ashton left the rooftop plaza, Kazeerah chuckled, "Man, I don't know what ta think of that guy anymore. Either he's really devoted to bringin' Ash back ta life, or he got kicked in the head by a Rapidash earlier."

After locating Lucash and Sapphire, everyone headed north out of Oreburgh City with Kazeerah leading the way. However, over the course of four weeks, Ash's children had begun to suspect that there was something wrong with their father that the others were not telling them. After walking for several hours, Kazeerah stopped at a sign where the road split into two paths. One led north while the other led east. Shadow approached the sign and looked it over. "North is to...Eterna City?" Kazeerah nodded, "Yeah. Y'all have ta take a lower route if ya go on foot. There's a bike path that takes the high road, so y'all need ta take the long way instead. Mt. Coronet is what we're lookin' fer, right?" Ashton nodded, "You said it was to the east." Kazeerah then looked down the path to their right, "Then east it is."

A few hours passed before everyone decided to set up camp for the night. Zandria started on dinner while everyone chatted to pass the time. "Anything else we should know about Eterna City?" Shadow asked with interest. Kazeerah nodded, "Well... There's a Gym there." Shadow crossed his arms, "OK. Any idea what types of Pokémon the Gym Leader uses?" Kazeerah shrugged, "Don't remembah. The Leader's name is Gardenia, if memory serves." Rukaria giggled, "Gardenia? As in 'garden'? Gardens have flowers, which are plants. And plants point to Grass type Pokémon." Shadow smirked, "Yeah, I guess that is pretty obvious."

The smell of baked goods filled the air. Zandria put on a cheerful grin as she set out a large tray of meat-filled pastries. "Meat buns are tonight's main dish!" Kazeerah chuckled, "We sure have been seein' a lot of Chinese stuff lately. Is that all ya evah cook these days?" Zandria shrugged her shoulders, "Let's just say I was hooked on Asian cuisine during our visit to the Far East 600 years ago." The Blaziken smiled, "Is that so? Not like I'm complainin'. Everythin' ya whip up is ovah the top in flavah." Everyone began to enjoy the meat buns. But once again, Lucash noticed that his father was sitting nearby without taking part in the mealtime activities. "Daddy, you gotta try this! These meat buns are amazing!" Thinking fast, Ashton concealed his hands from Ash's children while he moved his fingers. In response, Ash's corpse shrugged his shoulders as if to say he was not interested. By then, Lucash was not as willing to let his father turn him down. He stood up and carried a meat bun over to Ash. "Come on, Daddy. You never eat with us anymore! Try it!"

Chiara spoke up as Lucash neared his father, "Lucash, I already told you that your father is ill and needs to eat a special diet. I will feed him later." But the Lucario child grumbled, "He's been like this for almost a whole month! How can he really be sick for so long?!" The Lugia replied, "Some illnesses can take months to recover from. Others may even take years. But your father is almost healed. Just a few more days." Lucash frowned, "You mean it?" Ashton then spoke up, "Have faith in Chiara's knowledge. If she says that Ash is almost healed, then he IS almost healed." Lucash looked back at his father, who gave a reassuring nod. With a sigh, the Lucario child sat down next to Ash and started to eat his meat bun. Ruby called out, "Lucash, shouldn't you be over here?" But the boy replied, "I wanna stay with Daddy right now, Mommy." He then leaned against his father. Trying to avoid having Ash look suspicious, Ashton made Ash's corpse put an arm around Lucash's shoulder.

That night, everyone was sound asleep in his or her sleeping bags while the campfire steadily smoldered. However, Ashton was wide-awake as he silently watched everyone else. As he carefully listened to everyone's snoring, he walked over to Ruby's sleeping bag and nudged her with his foot. The Lucario mumbled something in her sleep before Ashton gently stepped on her tail. "Ergh.... Huh? What's happening...?" Ruby glanced upwards lazily at the viscount. Ashton frowned, "Get up. We need to have a chat." But Ruby yawned, "Can't it wait until morning?" But before she had the chance to nod off again, Ashton grabbed Ruby by the ear, "No, it can't. We won't be long. And besides, it's about Ash." Ruby perked up somewhat at the mention of her lover, "Ash...? All right..." She slowly climbed out of her sleeping bag and staggered to her feet. Taking Ruby by her hand so as to prevent her from walking into a tree, Ashton led her into the forest around the campsite.

After no more than a minute of walking, Ashton released his grip on Ruby's hand and leaned against a tree. "Are you awake now?" Ruby yawned, "Kind of..." Ashton then held up a hand as it was engulfed in flames, illuminating the area. "Ruby, do you remember what I said 25 days ago?" Ruby nodded, "I do... You would revive Ash yourself if we did not find Ho-Oh in thirty days. Even though it would kill you..." Ashton frowned, "That I did. And I was going to wait for you to decide if I should or wait out our search." Ruby sighed, "Ashton... I miss him more than ever now. But I never said I was willing to trade your life for..." However, Ashton spoke up, "I'm afraid I can't wait for you to decide. Ash will live again in five days. One way or another."

Ruby's eyes went wide at Ashton's ultimatum, "You... What?! I never decided on that!" Ashton frowned, "I know. I have chosen to do this on my own. You've seen your children. They are starting to see through this charade. They know there is something wrong with their father that we are hiding from them. I do not wish to see them when they find out that their father is no more." He then stood up away from the tree he had been leaning against, "In five days, Ash will live again. If we are unable to find Ho-Oh by then....." At this, Ruby pleaded, "Ashton, don't go through with this! It was my fault that Ash died! Mine! Not yours! It's true that I want him to live again. But not if it means crushing the love of three other women who have not seen you for 500 years!" However, Ashton shook his head, "Please... Do not tell them of my fate when the time comes..." Without another word, Ashton walked past Ruby and headed back to the campsite. But just before he could completely pass her, Ruby spun around and reached into Ashton's ninja tool pouch on the back of his hip. "What the...?!" By the time Ashton turned around to face her, Ruby was holding a kunai to her throat. "You listen to me right now, Ashton Redford Crimson...."

Ashton gulped, "You used my full name..... This is serious..." Ruby nodded in confirmation, as she seemed prepared to slice her own neck open. She spoke, "It was my mistake that ended Ash's life. It should be I who should have to pay the price for it. Not you!" Ashton only looked on in silence as he listened to Ruby's words. "You will stay alive and make your lovers happy. If anyone has to die in order for Ash to live, it will be me!" Tears were beginning to trickle down Ruby's face, "Either you promise to not give yourself up for him, or I will send myself to him right now!"

Having been threatened with suicide, Ashton remained still. But after a moment, he took a step forward. Seeing this, Ruby screamed, "Not another step! I'll do it!" Ashton retreated a step at Ruby's threat. But after a moment longer, he started to approach her. Ruby shouted, "I'm warning you! I'll do it! I swear I will!" But even as Ashton stood before her, Ruby did not make the killing strike. While trembling with tears cascading down her face, Ruby did nothing as the viscount removed the kunai from her hand and returned it to the pouch on his hip. He shook his head, "Your confidence has been abysmal since that night. I knew you did not have the willpower to go through with it."

Overwhelmed with shame, Ruby dropped to her knees while weeping pathetically before collapsing to the ground. "You're right...... I'm weak without him.... Without the sun, I'm nothing..." Ashton could only stare down at the young mother in silence, unable to bring himself to say anything to her. "My god..... I want to see him again so badly... I want to hear him say my name... I want to be myself again..." Ashton sighed as he dragged Ruby back to the campsite, "You will. Just give us five more days, and he will be in your arms again."

The next morning, Ashton spoke to Kazeerah. "A moment, please?" The Blaziken nodded, "Sure, what's on yer mind?" The viscount then asked, "About Mt. Coronet... Where exactly is the summit located?" Kazeerah replied, "Smack dab in the middle of the whole mountain range. Pretty easy ta spot." The viscount brought a hand to his chin for a few seconds before adding, "And where is the center of the mountain?" Kazeerah glanced to the east, "Lemme check." The Blaziken then jumped straight up into the air, shooting above the canopy. While airborne, she quickly scanned the horizon before falling back down to her companions. Before anyone could ask, she pointed to the northeast, "Right ovah there. But why'd ya wanna know in the first place?" Ashton smiled, "Thanks. As to why I wanted to know....." He then faced everyone else, "Why bother taking the main route when we can go as the crow flies?"

Chiara nodded at Ashton's preposition, "True... Following the main path will take us to the southern tip of the mountain range. If we started there, we would have to trek north as well. Not an appealing approach..." Kazeerah smirked, "So basically, if we start at the spot just undah the summit, all we'd hafta do is go straight up! I like the way ya think, Ashton!" However, Rukaria spoke up, "But won't it take longer? If we follow the main path, it will only take two days to reach it. If we head straight for the center of the mountain, we will have to trek through the forests around it. That will probably slow us down a bit." But Ashton grumbled, "If that's the case, then we had best get started now." He then gathered up his gear and headed through the trees to the northeast, Ash's corpse following close behind him. Lucy muttered, "He didn't even wait for our input on the matter..." Zandria nodded, "If Ashton just up and takes off without waiting for anyone to agree with him, it means he's dead-set on going through with his idea. I rarely see him this devoted." Not wanting to be left behind, everyone quickly cleaned up the campsite and ran after the viscount.

Over the course of five days, the group forged ahead through the forests that stood between them and the center of Mt. Coronet. Ashton gazed upward through the trees. (This makes thirty days since that night. If we do not find Ho-Oh before midnight.....) After a short while longer, Shadow pointed ahead, "Hey, I see something rocky up ahead." Everyone slightly increased his or her walking speed at Shadow's alert. Soon, everyone was standing at the base of a vast mountain, a craggy wall of rock spanning north and south as far as the eye could see. Sapphire gasped, "It' big! I can't even see the top!" Kazeerah nodded, "It's no wondah. Mt. Coronet has the highest elevation in all of Sinnoh." However, Ashton had begun to tremble strangely for no apparent reason. Pearl noticed the viscount's trembling and asked, "Something wrong, Ashton? I know it's an intimidating sight, but you're the one who said we have to climb this mountain." But Ashton replied, "This presence....." Ruby glanced over at Ashton, "What?" He then raised his voice, "There's no mistake... I can feel it. She's here! Ho-Oh is here! At the summit!!!"

Everyone turned to face the viscount as he shouted his claim. Lucy asked, "Are you serious?! You can tell?!" Ashton nodded, "I don't know how. I can.....feel her presence up there somewhere..." He then reached out and grabbed Ash's corpse before carrying him in his arms, "We need to hurry! If we lose Ho-Oh now, we may never find her again!" At those words, the Z-shaped scars under Ashton's eyes became bolder while his eyes became a fiery red. A pair of wings composed of rainbow flames emerged from his back, "I'll go on ahead!" At those words, the Angel of the Eternal Flame took to the air and flew towards the summit of Mt. Coronet.

As Ashton rose above them, Lucash shouted, "Hey! Where are you taking Daddy?!" Kazeerah replied, "He's got a point. I'm goin' on ahead!" The Blaziken then made a massive leap up the side of the mountain before landing and leaping again, ascending several stories with each bound. Pearl whistled, "Whoa... Are all Blaziken capable of jumping that high?" Chiara nodded, "Actually, yes." But Shadow growled, "I can't take this! I need to make sure they make it up there!" The Lucario warrior then started bounding up the mountainside as quickly as he could with the use of Extremespeed. Ruby called out, "Wait for us!" Ruby and her sister quickly followed Shadow as well. Chiara nodded, "I too shall accompany them." But as she began to levitate, Lucy climbed onto the Lugia's back. "Please, Chiara. Take me too." The Lugia scholar smiled at her passenger before turning to Zandria and Rukaria, "Please watch over the children until we return." Zandria gave a confident smirk while Rukaria nodded, "Will do." Chiara then flapped her wings for momentum as she flew towards the summit. Sapphire then asked, "But...why does Grandpa need Daddy to see Ho-Oh?" Zandria replied, "No real reason... They'll be back before long."

Ashton flapped his wings as quickly as he could while never taking his eyes off the mountain above him. After several minutes of flight, snow began to fall around him as the air became chilled. "Elevation must be getting quite high now..." Ashton muttered to himself as the mountainside before him became coated in a layer of snow. But after a few more minutes of flight, a burst of gale-force wind very nearly blew Ashton into the side of Mt. Coronet! "Whoa! What the devil?!" Ashton soon found himself in a bitter struggle to remain in control of his altitude as a blizzard howled all around him. A moment later, a voice shouted over the wind, "Ashton, looks like I was right about ya! Yer nuts!" Ashton looked down and saw Kazeerah standing a short distance below him trying to keep a grip on the icy rock wall. "This is why I couldn't get ta the summit in the first place! It's freezin', the wind is really bad, and it's hard ta keep a grip with yer feet! I can't even jump without runnin' the risk of bein' blown clear off the whole mountain!" Just then, Ashton noticed three Lucario approaching from below as well as Chiara struggling to fly through the harsh frigid wind. Ruby screamed at the top of her lungs, "What is this?! I've never seen weather this bad!" Chiara replied, "I understand why no human has ever reached the summit! The combination of frigid cold, gale-force winds, and steep slippery terrain makes scaling the uppermost section of Mt. Coronet nearly impossible!"

After a moment more of trying to make some headway against the storm, Ashton was slammed against the side of Mt. Coronet with Ash still in his arms. "Guh! That wasn't pleasant..." The snow helped cushion the impact, so Ashton was only mildly stunned. Lucy screamed as she tightly held onto Chiara, "This is crazy! We're all gonna die!" Shadow then shouted, "Ashton, do something! We're gonna get blown off the mountain at this rate!" Ashton quickly began to think. After a few seconds, he called back down to his companions, "Wait right here! I'll be back down to get you shortly!" He then made a hand sign to focus his Chakra into his feet, anchoring his feet to the side of the mountain. He then closed his eyes and muttered, "The condition for use.... To protect the life of someone precious..." He then shouted, "The first gate.... Gate of Opening..... OPEN!!!" At that instant, Ashton dashed up the side of the mountain with dizzying speed and out of sight. Chiara gasped, "He seldom uses that technique... Please, be swift, Ashton."

It took less than thirty seconds for Ashton to ascend above the clouds, placing him above the terrible blizzard that constantly ravaged the upper sections of Mt. Coronet. The air was still chilled and was harder to breathe. Before Ashton even knew what had happened, he ran right up over the very edge of the summit, sending him high into the air. Realizing where he now was, Ashton looked down as gravity started to catch up to him. Spanning the entire top of the mountain was a layer of not rock, but manmade stone tiles. Jutting up from the summit were numerous pillars that had all broken in two at some point in time. But Ashton quickly glanced around in a panic as he dropped back to the ground. Ho-Oh was nowhere to be seen.

"No... Lady Ho-Oh, where are you?! Please, answer me!" Ashton called out as he dropped Ash's corpse to the ground. "Her presence... It's faint. Where..." As he glanced about, Ashton noticed something out of the corner of his eye. To the east of the summit was a bird flying away. Ashton's eyes went wide as he dashed over to the very edge of the summit. He screamed, "WAAAIIITTT!!!!!!!!" At that instant, a massive rope of fire shot out from Ashton's arm and extended rapidly towards the distant avian. A few seconds later, Ashton felt the flames latch onto something. The instant the rope of fire grabbed the distant bird; it turned in mid-flight to face the viscount. Its eyes went wide at the sight of Ashton's wings of rainbow flames. It could also see the look of sheer desperation on his face, as if he was begging her to come to him.

Back below the summit, Pearl groaned, "I don't think I can hold on like this for much longer!!! Where's Ashton already?!" Shadow growled, "He said he'd be right back down! What's going on up there?!" As the others complained over their dire predicament, Chiara had a revelation. "Of course. Why did I not think of this sooner?" At that moment, Chiara's eyes glowed a bright blue as her psychic power radiated over the entire side of the mountain. A moment later, the blizzard subsided. The wind died away while snow gently floated down through the air. Lucy muttered, "It just...stopped?" Kazeerah looked up at Chiara, "Was that you?" The Lugia nodded, "Indeed. I thought to myself about a Lugia's power." She explained, "If a Lugia can create a 40 day storm, surely we can calm storms as well. And I was right. But we had best be going. I have no way of knowing just how long this calm will last." Ruby smiled, "Point taken! Let's hurry!" Taking advantage of Chiara's intervention, the group quickly ascended Mt. Coronet.

After little more than a minute, Kazeerah reached the summit with a mighty leap and landed at the edge of the layer of stone that coated the rocky ground. "Phew..... First Blaziken in the world ta evah reach the summit of Mt. Coronet! I just made history!" She quickly pulled her journal out of her sling bag and jotted down a note reminding her of the event. The rest of the group arrived at the summit just as Kazeerah returned her journal to her bag. Shadow wheezed, "The air is pretty thin up here... I'm beat." Pearl panted, "You took the words out of all of our mouths, I'm sure." As Lucy hopped off of Chiara's back, she looked towards the northern end of the summit. "Is that...?" Ashton was standing before a beautiful bird that stood over twice his height. It had a bushy mass of golden tail feathers and a white underside. The feathers covering its body, head, and upper wings were a fiery red. Green feathers also covered the lower half of the wings. When Ashton turned around to face them, everyone saw that his fiery red eyes were identical to those of the bird before them. The viscount spoke in a solemn tone, "Everyone... Allow me to introduce you to the phoenix... Mother Ho-Oh."

Everyone slowly approached Ashton and the bird that stood behind him. As his eyes returned to normal and his wings of flames dissipated, Ashton spoke, "I apologize for not returning to aid you. Ho-Oh was very nearly out of sight by the time I got here, so I had to direct my attention to getting her to notice me." But Chiara shook her head, "No, your aid would've been unnecessary. I was able to calm the storm." Ashton then turned to Ho-Oh, "My lady..." He then dropped to his knees, "Do you remember me?" The phoenix stared down at him, almost as if she was trying to understand what she was seeing. At last, she spoke, "Can it truly be? Are you...the same child I healed within the Dead Forest over six centuries ago? My Angel of the Eternal Flame?" Ashton smiled at her, "Yes, my lady. It is I. Ashton. The Angel of the Eternal Flame. Due to the Eternal Flame's power, I was reborn 500 years after death. I returned to this world in the form I was in during my prime. That is how I still live after so long has passed." Ho-Oh sighed, "My word... Such a power I bestowed upon you, even without knowing the full effects. But I can see that you still use them for honor and not selfish desire." Ashton smiled, "I am truly honored to be in your presence, my lady."

Ho-Oh glanced around at Ashton's companions, "So many in one place. Child, tell me. Why have you sought me out? I find it impossible to believe that you climbed this forsaken mountain just to see me in person." Ashton grimly nodded, "Your hunch is correct. I am here to speak to you of a grave matter." He then walked over to a fallen pillar and picked something up that was concealed behind it. When Ashton stepped back out into the open, Ho-Oh gasped at the sight of what the viscount was carrying in his arms. "He... That boy is..." Ashton frowned, "Yes... This boy is dead." Ashton then laid Ash's corpse before Ho-Oh as everyone else looked on silently. The phoenix whispered, "The same child..." Ashton asked, "You know him?" Ho-Oh replied, "I revealed myself to him... Three years ago. To think that he is..." Ashton sighed, "He was murdered. Died in the arms of his lover." He then looked over at Ruby, who slowly stepped forward. She spoke while holding back tears, "He... He was the love of my life. And it was my mistake that truly killed him..... Please... You must revive him..."

The gaze of Ho-Oh turned from Ruby to Ashton, "What is this boy to you? You appeared to be very distraught when you saw me." Ashton looked down at Ash's body, " my descendant. My son." Ho-Oh glanced at the viscount, "You are certain?" He then pointed, "Look at his face. Does it not look familiar?" The phoenix glanced down at Ash before looking at Ashton. She nodded, "I see. You do indeed share some characteristics. But if he is your descendant, then surely he..." Ashton nodded, "Yes. He too is a host of the Eternal Flame." The viscount stared down at Ash's body, "He is the ruthless, yet honorable, Devil of the Eternal Flame. Descended from my son, Atlas. He has Zangoose blood flowing through his veins." He then turned to Ho-Oh, "You know why we are here." Ashton then stared Ho-Oh in the eye, "Please... Let my son live again!"

Ho-Oh slowly looked down at the corpse before her. Ashton pleaded, "He left behind far too much! Friends. Dreams. Even a family!" Ho-Oh glanced at Ashton as he continued, "He has two children waiting for him at the base of Mt. Coronet! Even after a month, they still do not know that their father is no longer alive. They need him!" Ruby stepped forward, "They are my son and daughter! They adore their father, and I speak the truth when I say he has done a splendid job of watching over them! It would break their hearts if they learned that he is gone!" Ashton then bowed before the phoenix, "Please... Will you save him?" After a moment of silence, and of examining the eyes of Ashton's companions, Ho-Oh spoke her decision. "I shall."

As soon as Ho-Oh claimed she would revive Ash, everyone's eyes lit up with hope. Ruby could only barely speak, "Thank you..." Ashton stood up and took a step back. Ho-Oh then draped Ash's body with her wing, which was then engulfed in flames. Everyone silently watched with bated breath as the phoenix breathed new life into Ash's body. After a moment, Ho-Oh removed her wing from Ash, revealing that despite being engulfed in flames, he looked no different than before. "The Eternal Flame within him has been rekindled to full strength." Ho-Oh took a step back as Ruby slowly approached them. As she stood over Ash, the young mother dropped to her knees. She could see a little more color in his face. When she laid a hand on his forehead, she found that he was warm to the touch. She could also hear faint snoring coming from him. Overcome with emotion, Ruby sobbed, "I can hardly believe it..... He's...alive... He's alive!"

As Ruby rejoiced, everyone present rushed over to see if Ash was indeed no longer deceased. But Ho-Oh spoke out, "Not yet. Let him rest for now. He has been dead for some time, I see. It will take a short while for his body to adjust." Everyone halted their advance and watched from a safe distance. But at that moment, Ho-Oh looked towards Ashton. "Hmm... Child, the Eternal Flame within you is at half strength. Did something befall you?" Ashton glanced over at her in surprise, "You can tell? Well...yes. I was slain recently. And I was hoping you could..." But the phoenix smiled, "A small favor. Be still, child." Ho-Oh reached out to Ashton and draped him with her wing. A second later, flames engulfed him. He muttered, "I feel...something..." After a brief moment, Ho-Oh removed her wing, "There. The Eternal Flame within you has been rekindled to full strength. Be warned, it will save you from death only once. I cannot increase its potency to anymore than that." The viscount graciously bowed, "You have my thanks, Lady Ho-Oh."

After a moment of the phoenix answering a few questions asked by Ashton's companions, the viscount snapped his fingers, "Thank God, I only just remembered!" Ho-Oh glanced over at him in surprise, "Remembered? What?' Ashton then kneeled before the phoenix, "My lady... I have one last request of you. It is a very grave matter." Ho-Oh nodded, "And what is this request?" Ashton explained, "One of my sons... Like you, his kind are unaffected by the flow of time. However, a year before I returned to this world..... He perished..." He then gazed up into the phoenix's eyes, "Latios. My son's soul remains in Altomare, but his life is gone. I... I want to see him again. To live again." Ho-Oh smiled with compassion, "Say no more, my child. I will gladly aid you." But as Ashton rose to his feet with an expression of gratitude, Ho-Oh added, "However, I cannot risk venturing to Altomare in person. Instead, you shall act as the vessel for my power. Come closer, child." Curious, Ashton stood before the phoenix. She then smiled, "Be still." She then folded her wings over him in a warm embrace as flames radiated from them.

Kazeerah smirked as Ho-Oh bathed Ashton in flames, "Ya know, I like it when she does that. Really heats up the chilly air around here." Lucy shivered, "It does... Feels like I'm at the beach now." Moments later, the flames engulfing Ho-Oh's wings faded. As she released Ashton from her embrace, the phoenix spoke, "You now hold the power of life in your hands, child." Ashton raised his hands before him, "I feel.....some sort of power within just my hands..." Ho-Oh nodded, "Within each hand lies my power. You can use this power once for each hand. As I did for your descendant, using it on a host of the Eternal Flame will not only restore them to life, but also rekindle the Eternal Flame within them to maximum strength. However, using it on someone who has never been a host to the Eternal Flame will merely return that individual to life. Remember this." Ashton closed his hands into fists as tears trickled down his face, "Latios...... Wait for me..." He then bowed, "Thank you, my lady... I will never forget your generosity."

Seeing that Ashton had acquired what he had been seeking, Kazeerah stepped forward. "Hey, Ho-Oh. Gotta ask ya somethin'." The phoenix glanced at the Blaziken, "Yes?" She then cracked her knuckles, "If yer one of the biggest legends out there, ya must be pretty tough too! C'mon! Bring it on!" But at this, Ashton shouted, "Not on your life!" An instant later, Kazeerah found the Flamberge's mighty blade just inches from her beak. The viscount growled, "I will not allow anyone to harm Mother Ho-Oh." But Kazeerah chuckled, "Whoa, ya got the wrong idea. I just wanna scrap with 'er, not kill 'er!" However, Ashton still glared at her, "Ho-Oh must remain unharmed. If she is wounded, she will have greater difficulty remaining undetected during her travels. She is the only one of her kind. Please... Reconsider this." Kazeerah was taken aback by Ashton's stalwart devotion to Ho-Oh and calmly smiled, "Ashton... Yer pretty cool ta stand up fer a lady like this. All right." She then turned her gaze to Ho-Oh, "Ferget what I said. We don't have ta brawl. I'll go lookin' fer tough fighters elsewhere." The phoenix smiled, "Apology accepted."

Ho-Oh spread her wings as she let out a yawn, "I really must be going now, children." Shadow stepped forward and bowed, "We are grateful for your assistance. Truly, we were out of options when we came here." The phoenix smiled, "It was a pleasure." But before she could leave, Pearl spoke up, "Wait! What if we ever need to find you again?! Isn't there a pattern we can follow?" However, Ho-Oh sadly shook her head, "No. I merely soar wherever I wish. I have no real destination in mind. However, Mt. Coronet is the only place in Sinnoh that is remote enough for me to rest at without fear of detection by humans." Chiara nodded, "Very well. We will tell no one we saw you. Please take care during your travels, Lady Ho-Oh." But before the phoenix could fly away, Ashton jumped in front of her. "Um... One last favor, my lady?" He then whispered something to her. "Mmmm... Oh, I see... Well, that certainly is clever! Yes, I would be glad to. It is really no trouble at all."

Ruby kneeled before Ash as he slept. Seeing what she was doing, Ashton called out, "Um... Let's give these two some time alone, shall we? Everyone hide." Taking Ashton's word for it, everyone present ducked behind the fallen pillars that littered the area. However, as Ho-Oh was simply too large, Ashton climbed onto her back and made a hand sign. "Be still, my lady." A moment later, the two were engulfed by a puff of white smoke. Ho-Oh whispered, "Are you certain they can't see us?" He nodded, "As long as you remain still." To the eyes of everyone else, Ashton and Ho-Oh seemed to be a large boulder. Ruby then took a deep breath as she gently caressed her lover's face. "Ash... Please, wake up... Let me see you smile again..."

She nearly did not believe that Ash would ever wake up. Yet, as Ruby nudged him, Ash slowly began to stir. After a moment more, the eyes of the Devil of the Eternal Flame opened as if for the first time. Ruby was at a loss for words as he gazed up at her with eyes filled with life. "I can't believe just how much I missed looking into those eyes..." Ash glanced around lazily, "I feel so stiff..." Ruby replied, "Well, you've been dead for a month. It's only natural that you'd feel uncomfortable at first." But after a moment, Ash sat up and looked at Ruby with the very same pained expression as the night he died in front of her. However, the young mother covered his mouth with her hand, "Before you say anything..." She then leaned forward and held Ash in a tight embrace, "I love you..."

Ash remained almost perfectly still as Ruby held him in her arms. "You can drop the act now, Ruby..." But the Lucario shook her head, "I'll say it a thousand times if I have to. I love you. And I'm sorry for the hell I put you through." However, Ash sighed, "Stop lying... It hurts." By then, Ruby was in tears and pushed herself off of him, "Do I need to prove it?! Look around you! Where do you think we are?!" Ash then shivered, "Now that you mention it, I feel really cold. Where are we?" Ruby replied, "We are on the very summit of Mt. Coronet in the middle of the Sinnoh region. It was nearly impossible for us to get up here. We could've easily have gotten killed before reaching the top!" She then grabbed Ash by the shoulders, "We have spent the past thirty days searching for Ho-Oh in order to bring you back. And I was there every step of the way." She then began to cry, "Is that enough proof for you?! Have I proven myself worthy for your love?!" She then collapsed in a heap at Ash's feet, crying her eyes out. 

With a sigh, Ash helped Ruby to her knees. Ruby shuddered, "Did I...prove myself?" Ash looked away for a moment before looking back at the woman who fell in love with him. After a moment, tears began to pour from his eyes. He then smiled gratefully, "I... I really missed you... Ruby..." Without warning, the Trainer tackled his lover to the ground as he kissed her passionately. Ruby blushed in shock and embarrassment as Ash had never made the first move with such vigor before, but she was quickly lost in the moment as she embraced him and pressed into the kiss as well. Nearby, Ho-Oh blushed, "Oh my... Such passion!" Ashton added, "I wasn't expecting them to bury the hatchet so quickly. Anyway, I think now's a good time." With a hand sign, Ashton canceled the Transformation jutsu and jumped off of the phoenix while giving the signal for their companions to come out of hiding. 

As the two lovers pulled away from the kiss, Ash and Ruby gazed into each other's eyes. But just then, Ash looked up and found that familiar faces surrounded them. "Whoa... You're all here too?!" Without warning, Ash was tackled to the ground by Shadow and Pearl. Shadow wept, "I missed you, big time... Can' now..." The Lucario warrior silently sobbed in joy while Pearl grabbed Ash's face. "You can't even begin to understand how much I missed you... Pucker up!" Without another word, Pearl tearfully kissed the boy she loved. Ash, also glad to see her, pressed into the kiss as well. Chiara blushed as she giggled, "I never get tired of seeing this." Once Ash and Pearl broke the kiss, the three Lucario helped Ash to his feet. But he soon noticed Ashton standing right behind him. "Hey there, Ashton. How're you...mmf?!" The viscount grabbed his descendant and held him in a tight embrace. Everyone present remained silent in surprise, having never seen Ashton show such affection towards one of his more distant descendants before. Ash muttered to himself, (Sheesh, it's like being hugged by a big brother.) Just before releasing his grip, Ashton muttered, "So good to have you back." 

Upon backing away from Ashton, Ash turned and saw Kazeerah standing a short distance away with Lucy beside her. "Kazeerah? You're still here?" The Blaziken nodded, "You saved mah hide from that lowlife Hunter J. I had an obligation ta pay ya back. And..." She then nudged Lucy towards him, "Lucy really wanted ta see ya again. Right, sis?" Lucy blushed a very deep red at her sister's comment. But Kazeerah nudged her even closer to Ash, "Go on. Give the guy a hug." Slowly, the Lucario maiden approached the Trainer. When she was standing right in front of him, Lucy froze. She could only gaze up at Ash, her heart burning with anxiety. The darker voice of her mind urged her on, "What are you waiting for? Tell him." Almost in tears, Lucy muttered, "Ash.... I.... I....." He then dropped to one knee so that they were eyelevel with each other, "Yeah?" After a moment of preparing herself, Lucy blushed, "I.....really missed you..." She then threw her arms around him, the darkness in her mind scolding her for not speaking her true feelings. Ash smiled as he hugged her, "I'm glad to see you too, Lucy... Really glad." 

After releasing Lucy from their embrace, Ash heard a voice behind him, "Have you been well after all this time, child?" Surprised, Ash turned to face the source of the voice. He then staggered back at the sight before him. "Hey... You're..... Ho-Oh!" The phoenix nodded, "I am." Ash then jumped in excitement, "Oh man, I can't believe I'm actually seeing you in person! Wait until Morty hears this! He'll totally freak!" But Ashton then tapped his descendant on the shoulder, "That will have to wait. Right now, we need to get back down to the others. Your children are waiting for you at this mountain's base." Ash gasped, "Oh man... Lucash? Sapphire?! What happened when they found out about me?!" Pearl replied, "That's the thing. They didn't. Neither is truly aware that you were dead. Thanks to Ashton, they thought you were just ill with something that made you unable to talk or make anything more complex than simple movements." Ash breathed a sigh of relief, "Whoa... I owe you one, Ashton." The viscount smiled, "Not a problem." Kazeerah then spoke up, "Now, how're we gettin' down from here? I found some tunnel ovah there that led down inside the mountain, but I hit a dead-end with some weird symbols on the wall." Ashton chuckled, "That's not a problem. We're taking the shortcut. All we have to do is jump!" 

Kazeerah let out a laugh, "Jump?! Without bungee cords?! Yer off the hook, Ashton!" But the viscount explained, "Not quite. Chiara will provide the cushion with her psychic abilities before we can hit the ground." The Lugia brought a hand to her chin, "Clever idea, Ashton. Clever, yet bold." He then turned to Ho-Oh, "However, we will need some extra force for it to work. If we aren't far enough away from the mountain, we'll just crash into the side near the bottom. Lady Ho-Oh, this is what we need your help with." The phoenix nodded, "I understand. Allow me." A moment later, everyone was lined up side-by-side while facing the western edge of the summit. Ho-Oh stood behind them with her wings spread wide. Lucy gulped, "I'm not so sure about this..." However, Kazeerah patted her on the shoulder, "Don't get cold feet now. It'll be a snap!" Shadow snickered, "A little too late for us. It's freezing up here! All of our feet are cold!" Before anyone else could add his or her input, Ashton shouted, "Enough! Is everyone ready?" Everyone nodded. The viscount then looked back at Ho-Oh, "It's all up to you, my lady. And thank you for all that you've done for us." The phoenix smiled, "It was a pleasure, child. May we meet again someday." Ashton then looked back towards the edge of the summit and spoke, "All together now. Let's go!" In unison, everyone ran towards the western edge of the summit. As they sprinted, Ho-Oh flapped her wings forward, creating a Tailwind at their backs. The eight companions jumped just as they reached the edge of the summit, the Tailwind blowing them a good distance away from the mountain before they could start to fall. Before their descent could begin, Ash looked over his shoulder and waved goodbye to Ho-Oh. The phoenix smiled, "Take care. My Angel and Devil of the Eternal Flame." She then turned to the east and made a swooping dive before flying away. 

"AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! I CAN'T TAKE IT!!!" Lucy screamed as she tried to keep her eyes shut while she plummeted through the air. "What're ya talkin' about?! This is awesome! Extreme base-jumpin'! Wooooo!!!!" Kazeerah shouted as she nudged her sister. Ash grinned, "Kazeerah's right! It's not every day you get to skydive off a mountaintop! Too cool!" Shadow's teeth chattered, "More like too cold! This wind-chill is awful!" Chiara replied, "It will get warmer as we descend. Just be patient." Pearl then let out a giggle, "The kids will go nuts when they see us drop out of the sky! Chiara, make sure none of us fall on Rukaria's weapon if she has it sticking straight up when we get there." Ashton became a little blue in the face, "Ooh... Yes, that is an ugly thought..." As they fell, Ruby reached out and held onto Ash's hand. She smiled, "Let's get through this together, dear!" Ash then smiled, "Ever wondered what it'd be like to get married while skydiving?" The young mother grinned, "We can?! Awesome!" 

It did not take long for them to reach the snowstorm that ravaged the uppermost reaches of Mt. Coronet. Fortunately, Chiara's psychic influence had yet to lose effect, so there was no danger of being blown into the mountainside. Ruby pointed, "This was the area that was hardest to get by. Normally, there's a terrible blizzard blowing around up here that can send you flying off the mountain." Ash gulped, "Well...hopefully, we'll never have to come back." Ruby smiled, "Very true." Moments later, they passed the frigid layer of air and could now see the vast forests and occasional rivers that covered the area west of Mt. Coronet. Shadow smiled, "That's better. I can feel my nose again!" Kazeerah laughed, "The only problem with skydivin' and base-jumpin' is that they never last long enough! I think I can already see the others!" Lucy shuddered, "Feels more like they don't end soon enough for me..." Just then, Pearl noticed something gleam below them as the sunlight was reflected off of something. "I'll bet that's from the blade of Rukaria's weapon. That means they're right under us!" Ash laughed, "Looks like we're literally dropping in on short notice!" Ashton then looked at Chiara, "It's all up to you, Chiara. Timing is everything." The Lugia smiled, "I will stop us from hitting the ground by one foot. No more. No less." Lucy shrieked, "ONE FOOT?! WE'RE GONNA DIE!!!" The Lucario maiden flailed about hysterically for a moment before simply covering her eyes, praying for a miracle.

"Grandma, when is everyone coming back down?" Lucash asked with a hungry gaze. The Zangoose sighed, "Not sure at this rate. It's been a while since they went up there." But after a moment, Sapphire pointed upwards, "Wow, what's that?!" As Zandria and Rukaria looked upwards, eight figures could be seen falling from the sky. Zandria yelled, "HOLY HELL!!! They fell off! We've gotta find a way to cushion their fall! You! Get that thing outta the way so they don't get impaled on it!" Rukaria readily nodded, "Yes, ma'am!" The blind maiden tossed the Hyup Do to the side and stood ready to catch someone. As the eight figures drew closer, Lucy's screaming became louder. Ashton's voice soon shouted, "CHIARA!!!" A moment later, the eight companions froze in midair just a foot off the ground. Chiara smiled with her eyes glowing a bright blue, "One foot off the ground. No more. No less."

Once everyone was back on their feet, Lucy wobbled over to Ash and held onto him for balance. "Ugghhh...." She constantly shuddered, her legs feeling like butter. "Whoa... Didn't like it, huh?" Lucy only shook her head in silence. Meanwhile, Zandria was scolding Ashton, "What the devil were you thinking?!" Ashton chuckled, "I was thinking as long as we have someone with strong psychic powers, what's the danger of jumping off a mountain?" Zandria shook her head, "You really are aloof sometimes..." Just then, Sapphire and Lucash called out, "Daddy!" As they ran over to Ash, he smiled, "Hey! How're my kids doing?" Sapphire grabbed her father in a tight embrace, "You're all better! I was getting worried that you'd never talk to me again!" Ash muttered to himself, "She's as soft as ever, I guess..." With Sapphire being somewhat taller than him, Ash's head was level with her breasts. Lucash then pulled his father away and hugged him tightly, "Daddy, what happened up there? Did Ho-Oh make you all better?" Ash nodded, "Yeah, she did. I was in bad shape, but she fixed me up." The Lucario child grinned, "I really missed the old you, Daddy." 

After being greeted by his children, Ash was suddenly tackled to the ground by Zandria. "Oof! Mom?! What're you doing?!" The Zangoose cried, "That's it. Let me hear your voice. Talk to me." Ash held his ancestral mother up, "Um... What's wrong?" She then pleaded, "Come on! Smile!" As instructed, Ash gave her a nervous smile. Zandria grinned, "I was starting to think I'd never see it again." She then tightly embraced him, "Anything you want for dinner tonight? Soup? Pasta? Meat?" Ash shrugged, "I guess I am kinda in the mood for a hot bowl of soup." The Zangoose smiled, "Soup it is! I'll get started as soon as we set up camp!" But before he could sit up, Ash grabbed Zandria by the shoulder. "Mom?" She replied, "Yeah?" In response, Ash gave his mother a quick kiss on the lips, "I missed you." With a blush, and tears in her eyes, Zandria tightly embraced her son, "I missed you too, boy... You're my pride and joy and you always will be."

After letting go of his ancestral mother, Ash smiled, "Hey, Rukaria!" The blind Lucario maiden smiled, "Yes?" Ash then walked over to her, "Did you miss me too?" But she then gave him a firm embrace, "You bet I did!" Ash gasped, "I think I heard a rib crack there..." Kazeerah laughed, "Easy there, girl! Don't snap the kid in half!" Ash groaned, "Seriously! I can't...breathe..." Hearing Ash gasp for breath, Rukaria released her grip on him while blushing, "Sorry... Got caught up in the moment." After checking to make sure all of his ribs were intact, Ash walked over to the Hyup Do and picked it up. "You dropped this." He then held it out to her by its blade. As she took the weapon in hand, Rukaria smiled, "Thanks, Ruko." Ash raised an eyebrow, "Ruko? My name's Ash! Don't you know that by now?" Realizing her error, Rukaria blushed, "Uh... Oops! Sorry. Old habit..." But she soon thought to herself, (He really does remind me of him...)

Zandria held out Ash's backpack to him, "Now that you're back on your feet, it's time you started pulling your own weight again." The Trainer smiled, "Thanks for hanging onto this for me, Mom." Once he was wearing his backpack again, Ash asked, "So, where to next?" Ashton shrugged his shoulders, "I thought we came here for your Sinnoh League challenge." Shadow then added, "About that... There's a Gym in Oreburgh City." Ash smirked, "Then I guess we'll start there. Anything else you know about it?" Shadow nodded, "Yeah. The Gym Leader seems to specialize in the use of Rock type Pokémon. That should give me an edge." Ash nodded, "This first Gym specializes in Rock types? Just like Brock and Roxanne. Let's get going then! We're way behind schedule! Which way to Oreburgh City?" Kazeerah pointed southwest, "We need ta get back on the main path first. We're way off course now. Follow me." The Blaziken took the lead as she led her companions through the trees. 

Hours later, the group decided to set up camp while still a good distance from the main route to Oreburgh City. Zandria smiled, "My boy wants some hot soup tonight, so that's what we're having!" She then opened her collapsible pot, "I need to make certain this pot is a mirror sheen before I use it this time. Anyone know of a river or something to wash it in?" Lucy raised her hand, "I know of one that's close by." She then took the pot in hand, "Allow me. It's no trouble." Zandria smiled, "All right then, Lucy. I'm counting on you to handle it." Ash then set his hand on Lucy's shoulder, "Mind if I tag along?" The Lucario maiden nodded, "Sure! Follow me." She then led Ash northwest through the forest as Ashton ignited a small campfire.

After a short walk, Lucy and Ash came to a wide stream that was shallow enough to walk across. Lucy approached the water with Zandria's pot in hand, "Just as I remember it." Ash asked, "You sure know your way around Sinnoh, huh?" Lucy nodded, "Kind of. Kazeerah and I did a lot of traveling a while ago, so I'm pretty familiar with most of the region." She then proceeded to wash the pot as thoroughly as possible in the water. "It's already pretty clean. This won't take long." Ash watched from a distance while glancing around as if to watch for any intruders. 

Lucy shook the pot several times to dry it out. "That should do it." But as she turned to Ash, he spoke, "Lucy... The reason why I came with you is..." The Lucario maiden cocked her head to one side, "Yes?" Ash gulped, "It's about Outcast." Lucy hesitated for a moment before asking, "What about him?" The Trainer sighed, "He told me he.....raped you..... Is that true?" Nervously, Lucy shook her head, "No, of course not! What a terrible thing to claim!" But at these words, Ash became very red in the face. "....ARE YOU SERIOUS?!" He stomped his foot, "Are you saying I got myself killed for nothing?! That I died because of a lie?! Man, what a jerk!" 

Ash raved on for a moment as Lucy watched. But as she listened to him vent his frustration, Lucy remembered something from the night she watched Ash die. She sighed in shame before reaching out and touching Ash on the shoulder. The Trainer looked down at her with a clearly irritated expression. Lucy frowned, "I'm sorry..... I won't lie to you anymore." Ash asked in surprise, "Lie? About what?" Lucy set down Zandria's pot, "I had planned to never reveal this to anyone. But I shall tell you and ONLY you." But before Lucy could continue, she gave Ash a very stern stare. "Ash, promise me that you will never reveal what I'm about to say to anyone. Not even Kazeerah. OK?" He slowly nodded, "All right. It'll be our little secret." 

Ash and Lucy sat at the water's edge with their feet soaking in the stream. Lucy began, "Ash..... Outcast was not lying. It's true. I was......" She then shook her head, "No, I'll start at the beginning. I was born into the Skydiamond can, as you know. However, I have no memory of my parents. I was orphaned at a young age." Ash listened with deathly silence, never speaking a word as he heard Lucy's confession. "Due to my lack of combat skills, I never took part in the clan's hunts. I was occasionally harassed by other maidens in the clan, probably out of jealousy or as a means to test themselves. However, Outcast took it upon himself to train me how to fight. But after weeks of training with no results, he....." Ash gently set a hand on Lucy's shoulder, prompting her to look at him. She saw a most deep understanding in his eyes as well as compassion. She did not need to actually say it for Ash to understand. He knew then that Outcast was being honest when he admitted to committing rape against Lucy.

Ash sighed, "Lucy... You don't have to say anything else..." But the Lucario maiden shook her head, "No... I'll tell you everything. It was because of...that incident that I chose to leave the clan. But....." She sighed, "I was not captured by a Trainer after only a few weeks. That happened.....a few years after I left the Skydiamond clan behind. Some time after I left, I was cornered by a few scouts from my clan who attempted to capture me by force. It was then that I met Kazeerah and she drove them off. We bonded afterwards and traveled all over Sinnoh. But just a week or so before I was captured by that roaming Trainer, Kazeerah and I....." After a brief pause, Lucy continued, "All I will say is that Kazeerah and I were separated, and I feared she was dead. I didn't see her again until we found the two of you outside of Sandgem Town." She then sighed, "...There. I said it. My past. Just please...don't pity me..." 

Ash remained silent for a moment before speaking, "Lucy..." The Lucario maiden looked over at him, "Yes?" She was then surprised as Ash held her in a warm embrace, "I don't blame you for wanting to keep that a secret from me. That was a terrible thing you went through." He added, "And since it looks like you've gotten over that...incident, I won't pity you. But Lucy..." He then looked her in the eyes, "I won't let anyone do something like that to you again. OK?" Lucy shyly smiled, "Thank you, Ash... Just don't mention this to anyone." He nodded, "I promise. This is just between you and me." 

After Ash had put his shoes and socks back on, he and Lucy turned and headed back towards the campsite. But before they could enter the forest, Ashton emerged from it. "Huh? Ashton?" The viscount smiled at Lucy, "You go on ahead and get that pot to Zandria. I need to have a chat with our friend here." Ash gulped, "Really?" Lucy nodded, "All right. Don't be long." The Lucario maiden disappeared into the trees, leaving Ashton and his descendant alone at the riverbank. 

Ashton stood before Ash, who seemed to be slightly unnerved by his ancestor's presence. He gulped, "Uh... What did you need to talk to me about?" The viscount replied, "Quite a bit, to be honest." He then sighed, "Honestly, Ash. How could you allow yourself to be done in by a lowly thug?" At this, the boy took a step back, "What're you talking about?" Ashton shouted, "You are the Devil of the Eternal Flame! Wielder of the molten blood of the earth itself! How in the world did that Lucario assassin kill you?!" Ash shuddered, "How could I use that power.....after what I did to you and Lucy?!" He held back tears, "I almost gave in... Almost let my rage get to me... But I won't let it happen... Not again..."

Hearing Ash's response, Ashton raised an eyebrow, "Hm? Almost gave in? You mean...?" Ash nodded, "I felt it while I was trying to stop Outcast. But I held it back." The viscount sighed, "So you suppressed it." He then grumbled, "A foolish error." At this, Ash shouted, "Foolish?! What if you guys were there too?! What if I attacked you after I was done with him...OW!!!" Ash was sent sprawling across the ground as Ashton struck him across the face with the flat side of the Flamberge's blade like a paddle. "How many times must I say it?! Soul Edge is no longer in control of you! In fact, it no longer exists at all!" Ash looked up at his ancestor while rubbing the side of his face. Ashton continued, "The Eternal Flame is not an evil power. It is only as evil as you are. If you are in control of yourself, then we have nothing to fear of you. To that..." He then placed the Flamberge on his back, "I shall teach you how to harness the Eternal Flame within your soul." 

Ash staggered to his feet, "No way! I couldn't control myself last time! Even when that Soul Edge thing wasn't awake yet!" With a sigh, Ashton spoke, "Ash, all of us have been keeping this a secret for now, but I'll tell you." He then explained, "I was not the one who slew the Blackflame Five. You were." Ash gulped, "Then those five Lucario from my dreams... They were just..." The viscount continued, "Even though the first time a host of the Eternal Flame harnesses its power is always the most difficult time, you restrained yourself from harming Lucy and even spared Pearl's life, despite the fact that she was your enemy at the time. Even with Soul Edge influencing your actions, you displayed commendable awareness of your actions toward others." He then smiled, "I have no doubt that you will remain in complete control of yourself when you harness the Eternal Flame's power." 

After hearing Ashton reveal the truth of his past actions, Ash sighed, "OK... I'll take your word for it. Maybe I will be just fine. But..." He then shrugged his shoulders, "I...uh...don't know how to actually use the Eternal Flame." Ashton brought a hand to his chin, "Hmmm... Well, last time you started to tap into it, you were fighting desperately to defend Lucy from Outcast, were you not?" The Trainer nodded, "Yeah." Ashton then smiled, "Then I probably have just the means to bring your latent potential to the surface." He then made a pair of hand signs, "This is the only genjutsu I have ever perfected, but it should suit our needs perfectly." Ash gulped as he took a step back, "Hang on... Is this gonna hurt?!" Ashton shook his head, "Of course not. Genjutsu affects the target's senses. Genjutsu means 'Illusion Technique' for a reason, you know. You will not suffer any harm. However..." He then gave Ash a most serious gaze, "This will not be a pleasant experience." Before Ash could object further, Ashton spoke, "Demonic Illusion: Death Mirage Jutsu." 

A flurry of leaves began to swirl all around Ash as if they had been summoned from nowhere. He felt himself freeze, as if he was too dizzy to move. A moment later, the flurry of leaves vanished. Ash then saw that Ashton was nowhere to be seen. "What the... Hey! Where'd you go?! Ashton!" But at that moment, a voice spoke from behind him, "I would be more concerned about myself if I were you right now." Ash froze as he heard a voice that he had not heard in months. "You... But I thought Ashton... No... It was I who..." He then turned to face the owner of the voice, "Killed you.... Thanatos." 

Standing before Ash was a male Lucario with a terrible burn scar covering his left eyelid, forever sealed shut from the loss of his eye. Ash then glanced down and froze as he saw a bloodied and beaten Lucash trapped under the Lucario's foot. The child was clearly unconscious as he did not move, but was still breathing. "Lucash?!" Ash shouted in fright. The evil Alpha male smirked, "Your violations of my clan are well overdue to be punished. And your children will be the first to pay the price." Thanatos then gathered strength into his right hand for a Focus Punch as he prepared to crush Lucash's skull. "Just remember, boy. You're next!" As Thanatos plunged his fist toward Ash's son, the Trainer made a desperate lunge for them as his eyes turned a vivid pink, "STOP!!!"

"Ash, that's enough! Relax!" Ashton shouted as his dispelled the genjutsu. Ash glanced around in confusion, "What the?! Where'd he go?! Where's Thanatos?!" Ashton replied, "Probably still scattered about the battlefield where he met his end in Hoenn. Everything you saw just now was an illusion." Seeing no sign of Thanatos, his son, or even a puddle of blood where Lucash used to be, Ash began to calm down. "Phew... That was a scary moment..." But the viscount nodded, "Perhaps so, but it worked. Take a good look at yourself." Ash glanced down at his hands and found that they were coated in flames. To top it off, a pair of long black claws had extended from between his fingers on each hand. "What the... Is"

Ash found that a thin layer of flames that took on the shape of a Zangoose now coated his body. "Whoa... I have fuzzy ears on my head? And a...tail?" Ash reached behind him and brought his bushy tail of flames in front of him. "It feels like fur!" He then started to rub it and even nuzzled it with his face. "Man, that feels soft. I'm already starting to like this." Ashton then spoke up, "Just a moment now, Ash. How do you feel? Are you thirsty for blood? Do you want to rip someone open?" The Trainer looked over at his ancestor, "Um... Now that you mention it... I feel no different than I usually do." The viscount smiled, "There, you see? The Eternal Flame is by no means an evil power." Ash smiled, "What a relief... But...what do I do about these?" He held up his claws. Ashton shrugged his shoulders, "Don't look at me. I never had them. Try experimenting." Ash looked down at his hands and started to flex them along with his fingers. After a moment, he tried extending his fingers as far as he could while keeping them straight. In response, his claws retracted into his hands. "I guess that did it. Maybe I can get used to this." Ashton then crossed his arms, "From now on, use this power whenever the need arises." Ash nodded, "Will do."

After taking a look at his reflection in the nearby stream, Ash glanced around. "You smell that?" Ashton sniffed the air, "I smell nothing worth noting." Ash turned towards the general direction of the campsite, "Mom's already cooking dinner!" But Ashton replied, "How can you tell?! I don't smell anything!" But the Trainer smirked, "I'm not missing out! See ya there!" Ash then dropped down on all fours and dashed into the forest. Ashton chuckled, "Seems he's gained the senses of a Zangoose as well." Not wanting to be left behind, Ashton ran after his descendant.

A short while later, Ash burst out of the forest and came to a stop at the campfire. "Is it ready yet?!" Everyone jumped in surprise at Ash's sudden arrival. Kazeerah cracked her knuckles, "Gone off the deep end again, Ash? I'm ready ta scrap if yer in the mood." But Ash threw up his hands, "Whoa, easy there! I'm not here to hurt anyone! I'm just hungry!" The Blaziken raised an eyebrow, "Really? Yer not gonna try ta eat us?" Ash let out a laugh, "Of course not! I just want some soup! Is that OK with...huh?" He then looked behind him as Zandria hugged his tail. "I never get tired of this thing. What a luxurious tail!" Ash blushed, "Mom... Not in front of the others, please." But Lucash walked over to his father, "Daddy, you look so cool! Can I touch it?" The Trainer nodded, "Sure!" The Lucario child began to feel along his father's cloak of flames. "It's really warm. And you feel furry!" Sapphire smiled, "Furry?! Let me feel!" Before Ash could object, he was being firmly embraced by his daughter while she nuzzled his face. "Mmmmm, this feels really nice. I love this new look, Daddy." Just then, Ashton emerged from the forest. "I take it everyone is becoming accustomed with the Devil of the Eternal Flame's real personality?" Shadow nodded, "Yeah. I don't know what you did to help him stay in control, but it worked."

As everyone sat down for dinner, Zandria began to hand out bowls of soup. But as she handed the first bowl to Chiara, Ash suddenly snatched it from her hands and started to slurp it up. Chiara frowned, "How rude! Ladies first, Mr. Ketchum." Ashton brought a hand to his chin, "Hmmm... It would seem that Ash becomes more impulsive when the Eternal Flame is active." While Ash enjoyed his soup, Zandria took the time to hand out more bowls of soup to the others. But as she was about to hand out Kazeerah's serving, Ash finished his current bowl and snatched Kazeerah's soup away from her. "Hey! Steal mah dinnah, will ya?!" In retaliation, the Blaziken threw a quick jab at Ash's head. But the instant Ash looked out of the corner of his eye to see the fist coming, he leaned backwards, causing Kazeerah's fist to fly by his face. Kazeerah paused for a minute, "....What the... How'd ya dodge that? Ya didn't even see it comin' until the last second!" What was more, Ash evaded the blow without even spilling the bowl of soup. Lucy asked, "Ash, how did you do that?" He shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know... I don't even remember thinking about doing it." Ashton pondered to himself, (He saw Kazeerah's fist only half of a second before it could strike. That evasive maneuver was done entirely out of instinct. Seems that the Devil of the Eternal Flame functions more on instinct than thought. This could make him an exceedingly difficult opponent to strike. It takes time to think out plans, but actions made on instinct are decided in an instant.) Before Kazeerah could complain further, Ash chuckled, "Uh... Here ya go." He handed the bowl to Kazeerah. The Blaziken smirked, "Mighty polite of ya, Ash. Thanks." 

As everyone enjoyed their dinner, Kazeerah smiled, "Hey, guys? I need ta tell y'all somethin' important." Everyone stopped eating and looked towards the Blaziken. She continued, "Once we reach that fork in the road up ahead, I'll be headin' north." Ash then replied, "But Oreburgh City is south of there." Kazeerah nodded, "Yeah, but I'll be headin' ta Eterna City instead. The only reason I stuck around this long was ta make sure Ash was back on his feet." She then added, "Sorry. I know y'all are gonna miss me. But I'm a drifter at heart. I prefer ta go wherevah I decide. Nothin' personal, all right?" After a moment of silence, Ruby nodded, "It's all right if you need to part ways with us. Everyone has their own needs and goals." Ash sighed, "It was fun while it lasted. And I'm...touched that you stuck with us so long for my sake." Kazeerah then threw her arm around Ash's neck for a playful hug, "Ya really do remind me of Lucy sometimes. Relax. It's not like we're sayin' goodbye fer good. I'm sure we'll bump inta each other again someday." Ash hugged the Blaziken back, "I'm glad ta hear that. Yer pretty cool, Kazeerah." But after a few seconds, Ash gagged, "Guh?! Aw man! Now you've got me talking like you!" Everyone present let out a laugh. 

Over the course of four days, everyone steadily approached the fork in the road where Kazeerah would part ways with them. And every evening, Ashton would train Ash in harnessing the Eternal Flame's power more effectively. On the morning of the fifth day since Ash's resurrection, the telltale signpost came into view. Shadow pointed, "There it is. We turn left for Oreburgh City." Once they were standing before the signpost, everyone turned to Kazeerah. She smiled, "It was really fun, guys. But this is where I go mah own way." Ashton nodded, "It was indeed a pleasure, Miss Kazeerah." Hearing Ashton speak, the Blaziken pointed at him, "Don't go thinkin' I fergot! Ya still owe me a sparrin' session!" Ashton smirked, "Yes, I have not forgotten. I reside near Pallet Town in the Kanto region." Kazeerah then pulled out her journal and jotted down a note. "Pallet Town, Kanto region. Got it." 

Kazeerah turned to Lucy, "Well, Lucy? Ya decided on who yer goin' with?" The Lucario maiden looked back at all her new friends, remembering that they had discussed the matter with her. Ruby, however, seemed very distraught. She was trying not to cry, but was keeping a straight face somehow. Lucy gazed up at Ash, finding it difficult to choose whom to remain with. He smiled, "It's OK. Choose whoever you trust more." Lucy glanced back and forth at her companions and sister. After a moment of careful thought, she walked over to Kazeerah. "Just like old times. Right, Kazeerah?" 

The Blaziken gave her sister a firm hug, "Man, I can't wait ta get back on the road with ya! It's been too long!" Lucy hugged the Blaziken back, "I really missed all those times too." Once they had released each other, they turned to face their friends. Kazeerah smiled, "Thanks for takin' such good care of Lucy fer me. I really appreciate it." But at this, Ash walked over to the Blaziken. "Kazeerah?" She nodded, "Yeah?" The Trainer then threw his arms around her and held her in a tight embrace, "Promise me you'll watch out for Lucy." Surprised by Ash's heartfelt approach, Kazeerah smirked, "What's this? Does this mean I have a new lil brother now?" Ash's eyes went wide, "Uh..." Before he could let go, the Blaziken caught him in a very tight embrace, "Yer such a sweet kid! Don't worry! I'll take good care of 'er." Ash blushed as his face was pressed against the Blaziken's belly. (Man, her stomach muscles are really firm!) 

After goodbyes were said, Ash and Lucy shared one last gaze with each other. Ash smiled, "We'll see each other again someday, right?" Lucy nodded, "Definitely. You are all some of the best friends I have ever known." Kazeerah smiled, "Take care, guys. Let's go, Lucy." With her hand on Lucy's shoulder, the Blaziken led her sister north. But as they walked, Lucy looked over her shoulder one last time at Ash. In the depths of her mind, she heard her darker half scold her, "You are not being true to yourself..." One by one, Ash's companions began to head south. In the end, it was Ash who turned away last. When he caught up to Ruby, he whispered, "I'm sorry I wasn't able to keep my promise..." The young mother sighed, "It isn't your fault..."

As they walked, Lucy and Kazeerah chatted about all that had happened since they were separated. But after no more than fifteen minutes since leaving their friends behind, Lucy could hear her darker half scolding her in the back of her mind. "What are you doing? Why did you leave him?" Lucy tried to ignore the voice as much as she could, but the voice began to shout, "Have you forgotten all that he has done for you?! That he even died to protect you?! How can you even consider that he does not love you after that?!" Struggling to remain focused on her conversation with Kazeerah, Lucy listened to her sister the best she could. But her darker half then threw the deathblow. "The two of you are the perfect match. Do not forget. The bouquet." 

Hearing the darker half of her mind mention the moment when she grasped the bouquet of flowers thrown by a bride at a wedding in Oreburgh City, Lucy froze in her tracks. Kazeerah noticed Lucy's abrupt halt, "Huh? What's up?" Lucy brought a hand to her chest as she felt a powerful burning sensation there. Her darker half spoke, "You know it as well as I do. He loves you. And if you give him the chance, you just might even become husband and wife someday. But if you walk away now, you will forever be left wondering what could have been." Lucy felt tears beginning to fill her eyes as her darker half spoke, "You know what it is your heart truly desires. Now, go to him!!!" 

Lucy staggered around for a few seconds as she regained her senses. Kazeerah caught her before she could fall, "Whoa, what's wrong?! Ya eat somethin' spoiled fer breakfast?" After a moment, Lucy looked up at her sister, "Kazeerah..." The Blaziken replied, "Yeah?" Lucy then stood up, "I'm sorry... I'm going back." Kazeerah gasped, "Lucy... Ya serious?" The Lucario maiden nodded, "I'm sorry. It's just... I mean..... I don't know how to put it into words." But the Blaziken smirked, "Oh, I can tell whatcha mean. Ya got the hots fer someone?" At this, Lucy blushed, "No! Nothing like that!" Kazeerah laughed, "Just messin' with ya! But seriously..." She then rested a hand on her sister's shoulder, "It's OK. If there's someone ya hold dear ta you back there, go." Lucy sighed, "I'm sorry. We've been apart for so long..." But the Blaziken smiled, "Relax. I know where ta find ya. Pallet Town, right? I'll drop in and visit now and then, all right? We'll meet again." Lucy then gave her sister a firm hug, "Thanks for understanding..... I'll see you again someday. That's a promise." The Blaziken patted her sister's head, "Ya better count on it. Now, get goin'! Go ta yer friends! And tell 'em I said hi." Lucy smiled, "I will. Goodbye, Kazeerah. For now." With a tear in her eye, Lucy turned and ran south. Once her sister was out of sight, Kazeerah opened her journal and began to write, "Looks like Lucy's found that special someone. But who could it be? Guess I'll be finding out next time I bump into them."

Ash lagged behind his friends, as he could not take his mind off of Lucy. "I already miss her so much..." But after a moment, he could hear a voice calling his name from somewhere behind him. "!" Hearing his name, Ash turned to face the north, "Huh?" Much to his surprise, Lucy was running right towards him, "Ash!" He smiled, "No way... Lucy?!" He then dropped to one knee and held out his arms. As she neared him, the Lucario maiden leapt into the Trainer's arms. The two embraced each other tightly as everyone else noticed Lucy's return and ran back to them. Shedding tears, Lucy spoke to herself, (I can't tell you just yet.... But someday... Someday, I'll tell you everything, Ash. Someday...I'll say it..... I love you...)

To the north, the Skydiamond Oracle smiled in relief. "It would seem the worst is behind us." At that moment, Tia approached the Oracle, "What's the current situation with the Angels of Hope and Doom?" The Oracle replied, "It would seem that the heart of the Angel of Hope has been mended. The Angel of Doom is in no danger of seizing control now." Tia's eye went wide, "Really? What could've caused such an abrupt shift in her balance with the Angel of Doom?" The Oracle replied, "I honestly can't say. But... I sensed a new power appear a few days ago. And..." The Oracle paused for a moment, "It is very similar to that evil presence I sensed about a month ago. The one that rivaled the Angel of Doom. Only... The evil is now gone." 

Tia brought a hand to her chin, "It has returned? But it is no longer under an evil influence?" The Skydiamond Oracle nodded, "Yes. Its power is great. And while its demeanor is wild, and possibly even ruthless, it is a...honorable spirit." The Oracle turned to Tia, "I sincerely believe that this entity will become a most valuable ally against the demons of the world." Tia smiled, "At the very least, the worst is over now. But remain on the lookout. The struggle between Doom and Hope never ceases." The Oracle nodded and closed his/her eyes while Tia returned to the center of the Skydiamond clan grounds to organize a hunting party for other demons. The Oracle muttered, "Born in sorrow. Die in sorrow. But.....can this destiny be altered?"

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