AGNPH Stories

Rukario Romance by XD385


Test of a Steel Will

Around a week after Lucy's long lost brother, Lucius, joined them, Ash and his friends and family came within sight of the bustling metropolis of Jubilife City. "This is our third time through. Think anyone will recognize us?" Ruby asked. Ashton replied, "Hard to say. Some might, but I doubt many will." He then turned to Lucius, who was still clad in his black trench coat. "Lucius, are you comfortable with that attire? I know a tailor here who could probably design something more fitting for you." At this offer, the Shiny Lucario smiled, "That's a gracious offer, but I actually like this outfit. Does a good job of protecting me from harsh weather." The viscount nodded, "Very well then. But if you change your mind, let me know." 

Upon entering Jubilife City, everyone promptly made their way to the closest hotel to reserve some rooms for the evening. Thanks to the very generous bounty he had received for assassinating Hunter J, Ash had no trouble paying for the expenses. Once everyone had settled into their hotel rooms, they were quick to order room service for lunch. While waiting for the chefs in the kitchen to finish, Ash smiled as he listened to Sapphire play the music box she had received for her birthday over two weeks before. The Lucario child giggled, "Mommy picked out such a pretty tune." Her father grinned, "Leave it to your mom to come up with awesome gifts."

Before long, Lucius came by Ash's hotel room with the appetizers of their meal. "Huh? Did you sign up here for work?" Ash asked as he saw the Shiny Lucario carrying the food. He grinned, "Not quite. Just stopped by the kitchen to pick these up so we wouldn't have to wait for them to finish the whole set before bringing them up. You're the only ones I haven't gotten around to dropping off the appetizers to." Lucash smiled, "Thanks, Mr. Lucius!" Ash then took the appetizers, which consisted of salads and fried ravioli, and spread them out upon a table within the room. Sapphire grinned, "These look yummy! I can't imagine how good the main course will be!" 

Lucash and Sapphire drizzled their salads with sweet French dressing while Ash and Lucius enjoyed some fried ravioli, complete with tomato dipping sauce. But as they ate, Lucius whispered to Ash, "So, have you told Lucy yet?" The Trainer replied, "Um... Not yet. I don't want to take it too fast with her." Lucius pondered things over in his head for a moment before asking, "Then why not start things off simple?" Ash raised an eyebrow, "How simple are we talking?" The Shiny Lucario smiled, "How else? Ask her out on a date." At this suggestion, Ash nearly choked on his salad. "A date?!" Lucius nodded, "Of course. There's no better way to start off a relationship than with a first date. Go ahead. I think she'll be pleasantly surprised." However, the Trainer frowned, "But if I'm gonna ask her out, she'll need a new set of.... Wait a second." He then brought a hand to his chin, remembering what Ashton had mentioned when they were on the outskirts of the city. "...I'll bet Ashton knows where I can get one. Be right back." The Trainer stood up and left the hotel room with a mouthful of salad in his jaws, leaving Lucius curious of what he had thought of. 

"Let me get this straight. You want me to get Lucy's measurements so you can have a dress made just for her?" Zandria asked outside her hotel room as Lucy and Ruby enjoyed their lunch inside. Ash whispered, "Yeah. And keep your voice down. Lucario have really good hearing, after all." Zandria nodded before whispering, "OK. And why is that on your mind? You planning on raiding her panty drawer later?" Ash blushed nervously, "No way! I just want her to have a nice dress when I.....ask her out on..." The Zangoose smirked as she pinched Ash's cheek, "What's this? Is my boy finally mustering up the courage to ask precious little Lucy out on a date?" With a blush, Ash nodded in silence. Grinning widely, Zandria snickered, "Lucy is gonna look so lovely in that dress. Be sure to show me once it's done." With a happy smile, Ash gave his ancestral mother a firm embrace, "Thanks, Mom. Come to my hotel room when you're ready." 

Zandria stepped back inside her hotel room once Ash was out of sight. Ruby asked, "What did Ash want?" The Zangoose smiled, "Just wanted to know what's for dinner. You know how much that boy loves food." She then turned to Lucy, who was enjoying pasta in a cream sauce with mutton. Zandria asked, "Lucy, would you mind standing up for a minute?" The Lucario maiden nodded, "Um... All right." However, once Lucy was standing a short distance from the table, Zandria took out a tape measurer and approached her. Lucy gulped, "What are you doing?" The Zangoose then began to measure Lucy's height, "Just taking your measurements. If those clothes of yours are ever destroyed, we need to know what your body is like in order to get you some new ones that fit." Lucy smiled, "So you're planning ahead. All right, I'll wait." After a couple of minutes, Zandria jotted down the measurements of Lucy's body on a napkin. "OK. You girls go back to lunch. I have a few chores to tend to." Ruby nodded, "All right then. I'll save you some shrimp." Zandria then left her hotel room and proceeded down the hall towards Ash's room. 

"Um... I don't really get what each of these mean, but you got her measurements down?" Ash asked as he looked the napkin over. Zandria smirked, "Yup. Every last detail that's needed. But before you go get her dress, what is it gonna look like?" The Trainer smiled, "I was thinking of one like Sapphire's. Only problem now is the color. Any ideas?" At the mention of the dress Sapphire had received for her birthday, Zandria snickered, "Oh boy, she will look absolutely sexy in a dress like that! But as far as colors go....." The Zangoose began to pace back and forth, "Hmm... What would she look good in...?" But she soon stopped, "Oh, right. I've noticed she seems to like light blue in terms of color. Give that a try." Ash smiled, "Thanks, Mom. Light blue it is..." He proceeded to scribble the information down in a corner of the napkin. "Go tell Ashton I need to see him." The Trainer then ducked inside his hotel room while Zandria proceeded to the room Ashton and Rukaria were sharing together. 

A short while later, Ashton stood near the staircase while passing the time by twirling a kunai dagger around his finger. He did not wait long as his descendant came running to him with a familiar dress in his arms. "That shade of sky blue... Isn't that Sapphire's dress?" Ash nodded, "Yeah. I'm just bringing this along for reference. Now, you said you know where to find a tailor in town?" The viscount glanced down at his blue cloak, "Indeed I do. And when you said reference, you meant you wish to have the tailor weave another dress like Sapphire's?" The Trainer nodded, "Yeah. Only smaller. So, would you mind showing me where to find this tailor?" Ashton smiled, "Gladly. Stay close now." He then proceeded down the stairs, Ash staying close behind him. 

Ashton took several minutes to recall where the local tailor was in the great city, remembering that it was located near the towering TV station. "Somewhere near there, if memory serves." However, they failed to notice a familiar young woman eyeing them curiously. "That boy... I can't believe we actually found him. Time for some action." She then turned to her partner, a cameraman wearing a red cap backwards. She raised a microphone to her mouth, "This is Reporter Kinsey, live in Jubilife City. It would seem that we have stumbled across the famed poacher slayer. Yes, the very same person who brought down the nefarious Hunter J. Let's see if we can get a few words with the local hero." 

Before long, Ashton came to a halt less than a block from the local tailor. "Why does it feel as if we're being followed?" As if to answer those words, Kinsey stepped forward and held her microphone towards Ash's face. "Excuse me, but can we get a few words from you?" Ash spun around, startled by the unexpected approach. "Huh?! About what?!" Kinsey smiled, "About what? Why, about how you disposed of Hunter J! That's what!" The Trainer took a step back, "Oh, great... Now I'm gonna be hounded by tabloids for the rest of my life." But the reporter grinned, "Don't be that way! We just want to get the truth straight from the hero himself! Now, how do you..." Before the reporter could get any further with her investigation, an annoyed Ashton grabbed Ash by the wrist. "Hold your breath." A second later, the viscount threw an orb of sorts towards their feet, which burst into a cloud of dark smoke. During the confusion, Ashton dashed down the sidewalk and ducked into a building with Ash by his side. "Pesky urchins... They're just as bad as those maidens back when I was still single." 

After waiting a moment to see if the reporter and cameraman were pursuing them, Ashton and Ash took a moment to catch their breaths. "What the heck did you use, Ashton?! Was that one of your ninja tricks again?" Ash asked, still a bit irritated from inhaling some of the smoke. Ashton replied, "Not quite. A simple smoke bomb. Effective for escape or diversionary tactics." The two then took the time to glance around. However, at the sight of sewing machines and scrolls of cloth, Ashton brought a hand to his chin. "Wait a moment..... Are we where I think we are?" Seconds later, a young woman with short blond hair emerged from a side room. Upon seeing the two, she spoke with a familiar French accent. "Oh? Well, bonjour! I remember you, mon ami!" Ashton smiled, "And I recall seeing you, miss. Allow me to thank you again for your services back then." Ash then asked, "So this place is the tailor?" Ashton nodded, "Yes. This is where I acquired my new cape. Or cloak, whichever term you prefer." 

The tailor took a moment to examine the cloak she had crafted for Ashton over a month before. "Tres bien. It is still magnifique after so long! Now, what can moi do for you today?" Ashton chuckled, "Yes, I have been taking good care of this fine cloak you wove for me. However, it is not I who desires your services." Ash then stepped forward, "Do you have time to make a dress for a friend of mine? One like this?" He then held out Sapphire's dress. The tailor took it in hand and looked it over for a moment. "Ooh la la. This is a most impressive gown. Almost as if it was crafted by moi!" Ash blushed, "Yeah, it does look really good. Only..." He then handed her the napkin with Zandria's writing on it, "Could you make it to match these measurements?" After reading it over for a moment, the tailor asked, "It shall be done! And in light blue color?" The Trainer nodded with a grin. The tailor returned Sapphire's dress to him, "It shall be done, mon ami! Please wait for moi to finish. There is some tea ready over there if you happen to be thirsty."

Over the course of an hour, the tailor worked nonstop on Lucy's dress while Ash and Ashton made themselves at home. Once the dress was complete, the tailor smiled, "Tres bien! This dress... It screams 'magnifique', does it not?!" Ashton glanced over at the dress as the tailor held it up. "It's...much smaller than I expected. But it does seem to match Lucy's petite frame." As he gazed upon it, Ash's face became slightly red as he pictured Lucy clad in it. "It's...really pretty." The tailor giggled at Ash's blank expression, "Ooh la la, does a certain someone have mon ami's heart? Ha...amour." Ashton chuckled, "It wouldn't surprise me. Now, how much for this?" Ash reached into his pocket and handed over the payment for the dress. With Lucy's new attire in hand, Ash waved goodbye to the tailor and left with Ashton at his side. The tailor waved, "Come again, mon ami! Give her my regards!" 

That evening, Zandria laid the new dress upon the bed in Lucy's hotel room after cutting a small hole for her tail in the back of the dress. She also provided matching black lingerie for use as undergarments. Not wanting to be caught, the Zangoose left a small note atop the neatly folded dress and lingerie and left the hotel room just as Lucy was heading upstairs via the elevator. The wily Zangoose had also alerted Ruby to Ash's plot, so the young mother was also absent from the room. 

Upon returning to her hotel room, Lucy promptly noticed the dress and lingerie on her bed. "For me?" She set the note aside and held up her dress. "It's even my favorite color!" Eager to try it on, she grabbed the black lingerie and ran into the bathroom. Before long, she stared at herself in the mirror. Her slender black legs were uncovered at the sides while her tail hung behind her through the hole Zandria had cut for her. The Lucario maiden took a modest pose, giggling with a blush, "It looks really good on me!" But before she had the chance to take it off, Lucy heard a knock at her hotel room's door. "Hm? Someone there?" But when she opened the door, Lucy gasped at the sight of a very nervous Ash Ketchum standing before her. "Ash! Why are you...dressed so...handsomely?" 

Ash was dressed in an unusual outfit compared to what he normally wore. He wore black pants with a fancy black jacket. A gray vest covered his chest down the middle while his feet were clad in fine black leather shoes. Along with a pair of white gloves on his hands, a gray fedora sat atop his head. He was clearly nervous as his face was flushed and he was sweating profusely. "Ash... Why are you dressed like this?" Lucy asked, worried from his expression. With a stutter, he replied, "Lucy... I was wondering if you would...want to..." He suddenly dropped to his knees, somewhat lightheaded from his nervousness. Lucy grabbed him, "Are you all right?! And what did you want to ask me?" After regaining his bearings, Ash gulped, ".....Would you like to go out with me?" 

At Ash's request, Lucy staggered backwards. "What did you...just ask me?" The Trainer slowly stood up, "I... It's all right if you don't want to. I'll just..." But before Ash could leave, Lucy tenderly grabbed his hand. She asked, "Tell me. Are you...asking me out on...a date?" Without a word, Ash slowly nodded. Lucy felt a rush of heat fill her, her hands becoming sweaty. (What do I say? What should I tell him?) But in the depths of her consciousness, a familiar voice spoke to her. (Do what your heart commands you to.) Lucy slowly turned her eyes towards Ash and whispered, "I to."

Uncertain if he had heard Lucy correctly, Ash turned to her and shyly asked, "Um... What did you say?" Lucy replied with a blush, "I said I would love to." It took a moment for her words to actually register with Ash's mind. "...Wait... Seriously?" Lucy chuckled slightly at just how much he was not expecting her to agree. "Yes. I said I want to go out with you." Ash blushed deeply as a relieved smile crept across his face, "Whoa... I mean... OK! So, where would you like to go?" Lucy brought a hand to her chin, trying to recall where any worthy date locations would be in Jubilife City. "Well... We're dressed up fancy, so a fancy place would be best. Where would such a place be...?" Ash checked his Pokétch, "It's still a bit early for dinner. Know of any places where we could wait another hour?" However, a familiar voice asked, "If I may? I have a suggestion for how you can pass the time, yet work up an appetite for dinner." Standing just outside in the hall was Ashton, a pair of mock fencing rapiers in his hands. 

"Swords?" Lucy asked, slightly worried. Ashton smiled, "Not quite. These are foils. They are used in fencing. Unlike real swords, they can't actually cut you." Ash raised an eyebrow, "Fencing? Is that what you have in mind?" The viscount nodded, "Of course. Fencing takes much more energy than you would expect, so you're sure to work up an appetite in the process. It may even improve your reflexes." Ash grinned, "It sounds fun! OK! Where to?" Ashton motioned for the two to follow him, "The rooftop plaza sounds like the best choice. Plenty of open space and no one to get in the way." Lucy stayed close behind Ash, curious of what fencing was like.

Once they had ascended the stairwell to the roof, Ashton led his two companions towards an open area that lacked tables, chairs, or anything else that could limit their field of movement. "Who wishes to duel me first?" Ashton asked, a calm smile on his face. He soon turned to Lucy, "How about you, Lady Lucy?" The Lucario maiden blushed, "Um... Thanks for the offer, but no thanks. I only just got this dress, so I don't want to risk damaging it on my first night wearing it." Ash then stepped forward, "How about me? My clothing's more durable. I don't think we have to worry about it getting busted up." Ashton held out one of the foils to his descendant, "Very well then, Sir Ash. I hereby challenge thee to a duel." The viscount was now speaking much like an upper-class Englishman. Ash chuckled, "I like that accent, Ashton. And sure, I'll gladly take you on." 

Ash looked his sword over. It had a very narrow blade that was completely dull and had a rounded tip to prevent itself from puncturing its target. The blade was around ninety centimeters in length with a round hand guard at the base. "It's pretty light. I don't think I'll have any trouble with this." Ashton then pointed his foil out at the Trainer after tossing his blue cloak aside, "Stand alert, Sir Ash! I, Sir Ashton, will smite thee with one stroke should thou become complacent." Ash jumped slightly at Ashton's outburst, noticing that the viscount was holding his sword rather confidently in his right hand. Lucy giggled at the sidelines, clearly amused by Ashton's charade. Ash smirked as he straightened his stance, "OK then... I mean... Very well then, Sir Ashton! I accept thy challenge! Do try to keep up!" Ashton chuckled, "I commend thy spirit, though the greater experience is mine. But enough talk. En garde!" 

Ashton made the first move as he thrust his foil forward, firmly poking Ash in the side of the arm. "Ow! That kinda hurt..." The viscount replied while whimsically twirling his sword around his hand, "Just be grateful our blades are not sharp. No need to fear harm. But there may be some pain if thou allows himself to be struck." The viscount then lashed out with another thrust, this time poking Ash in the stomach. "Knock it off!" Frustrated, Ash swung his foil, striking Ashton in the side of the head. The viscount yelped, "Ow! You're not supposed to slash with a rapier-style sword! That's what a saber is for!" He proceeded to rub the side of his head, still stinging from the strike. Ash chuckled, "Sorry. I'm not used to swords, ya know. So I don't know how each kind is meant to be used." 

Once Ashton had recovered from the blow to his head, he regained his composure and held his foil out towards Ash. "Just remember. A rapier is designed for impaling strikes. Thrusts. It is ill-suited for slashing. Now come. Try to strike me." With a nod, Ash made a lunge for Ashton with his own foil. But as the blade neared him, Ashton held his sword vertically and pushed the blade of Ash's sword away as they slid past each other. "This is parrying. Since you are not holding a shield, you must be prepared to repel your opponent's attacks with your own weapon." Ash looked at his foil, "With a blade this thin, that'll take some serious skill.... Hey?!" While Ash was preoccupied, Ashton attempted to strike him in the chest. But the Trainer reacted quickly and parried the blow in the same manner that Ashton had done. Lucy applauded, "You're getting better, Ash!" The Trainer blushed, "Yeah, I guess I am pretty awesome with this, aren't I?" But Ashton laughed, "You indeed surprised me by reacting so quickly, but don't get complacent! One thing a warrior must never have is an ego. Such arrogance can lead to disaster on the battlefield. Never forget it." Ash sweated nervously, "Yeah... I learned that a long time ago." The viscount smiled, "Good to hear. But let's continue, shall we?" 

Time passed as Ash and Ashton dueled each other in a fencing match. While Ashton did have the upper hand at first, he gradually began to fumble as Ash became more and more confident with the foil as his lack of skill with the rapier began to become apparent. The viscount panted, "All right, that's enough.... Stand down already!" He fell backwards while trying to evade another strike from Ash. "I always knew I was no good with a rapier. Even a novice surpasses me after only two hours..." Ash panted steadily, somewhat exhausted from the long duel. "I never knew fencing could tire you out like this. What a workout." Just then, everyone froze as Ash's stomach let out a loud grumble. "I think I've worked up my appetite for dinner now. Let's go, Lucy!" The Trainer dropped his sword and ran over to the Lucario maiden. She smiled, "That was a lot of fun to watch. I got hungry just watching you." Ash smiled widely, "Then let's do something about that. Know of any good restaurants around here?" Lucy nodded, "I know one that should suffice. Come with me." She then led Ash down the stairwell, leaving an exhausted Ashton sitting atop the hotel. 

A short while later, Ash and Lucy were seated at a table within a somewhat fancy restaurant. Waiters clad in black uniforms ran back and forth between tables tending to their customers. Lucy smiled, "This place is usually pretty packed on the weekends. Good thing we came on a weekday." Ash looked the menu over, "I can see why this place is popular. Everything on the menu looks awesome." Lucy nodded, "This pork dish looks tasty. Funny name though." Ash looked at where Lucy was reading and smirked, "Sounds Asian. Funny how it's an Italian dish with a name like that." 

Before long, the appetizers arrived. Ash was enjoying a house salad while Lucy had chosen lobster bisque. The two munched and slurped their food quietly. But after a moment, Lucy began to glance over at Ash out of the corner of her eye. For so long, she had viewed him as a precious friend. And now they were on their first date. She pondered how their current relationship had come to be. She remembered when he had stumbled upon her in Hoenn while she had been boiling ramen. How he had asked her to dance with him on the ferry from Lilycove City and willingly kissed her at the end. And how he had protected her and all of their other companions from the notorious Blackflame Five. She had only known him for several months. And now she found herself in love with him. 

A faint blush began to fill Lucy's face as she sipped her soup, seldom looking away from Ash. However, he never noticed, as he was too engrossed with his food. She continued to think back, remembering everything that had happened between them. And it was then that she recalled a most terrible memory. When Ash died in front of her at the hands of the very man who had stolen her virginity years before. However, instead of pain, Lucy felt a sense of reassurance. (He put his life on the line... To protect me.) She slowly leaned forward, narrowing the distance between their faces. (I get it now. He never would've been prepared to die for me if he did not feel so strongly for me...) Lucy slowly closed her eyes as she prepared to kiss the Trainer. (Ash... You... You must be my...) 

Lucy was awakened from her trance as her waiter set out her entrée. She quickly regained her composure before Ash could notice her position. The waiter then set out Ash's entrée. A large bowl of tortellini in a cream sauce with cured ham, peas, and mushrooms. "Man, this looks awesome. What'd you get, Lucy?" Ash turned to see what she had ordered. A large pork shank stood in the middle of the plate, surrounded by and covered in a red glaze with rosemary mixed in. As a side dish were string beans and diced tomatoes. Lucy felt her mouth starting to water, "It looks even better than I expected..." She carved off a chunk of meat and took a bite. The meat was surprisingly tender, slow-cooked to perfection. A dreamy expression crept across her face. "Fantastic..." Ash raised an eyebrow, "Whoa... You OK, Lucy?" The Lucario maiden sighed, "Just fine. I think I'll take my time with this." 

After finishing dinner, Ash escorted Lucy back to their hotel. But as they approached the door to her room, Lucy smiled, "I really enjoyed myself tonight, Ash. Thank you for inviting me." The Trainer blushed, "Anytime, Lucy." As it was getting late, both were feeling somewhat tired. Lucy blushed, "Will this be...the last time we go out?" Ash hesitated for a moment before grinning, "No way. This is just the first. When we get to Oreburgh City, we can go out after my Gym battle there." The Lucario maiden smiled, "I'm looking forward to it."

Once she had unlocked the door to her hotel room, Lucy turned to Ash. "Um... Ash?" The Trainer smiled, "Yeah?" She then began to blush deeply, "There's something...I need to tell you..." Ash dropped to one knee, "And what's that?" The Lucario maiden gazed into Ash's eyes, "I.... I...." However, no matter how hard she pushed herself, Lucy could not bring herself to say what she wanted to say. Instead, she decided to embrace him. "I'm grateful...that you happened to stumble across me back in Hoenn..." Ash smiled with a blush as he held her close, "I'm glad too... Really glad." The two held each other tightly, almost as if they were afraid to let go. After a moment, Ash whispered, "Has your heat passed yet?" Lucy replied, "It left me just after we left Sandgem Town. I'm fine." The Trainer smiled silently, his hand gently holding Lucy's head from behind. After a moment more, the two companions reluctantly released their grips on each other. Lucy smiled, "I'll see you tomorrow, Ash. Good night." Ash grinned, "Sleep tight, Lucy. Catch you later." Once Lucy had stepped inside her hotel room, she sighed to herself. (I couldn't bring myself to tell him... Why? I really do love him, so why couldn't I confess to his face?) Lucy was also curious as of why the Angel of Doom had never spoken up at all during the date. She quickly decided to not think about it, hoping to never hear that dreadful presence again. However, she was not the only one who was disappointed. As Ash walked back towards his hotel room, he frowned, "What's wrong with me? It's not like me to clam up when I want to tell someone something important. Why couldn't I tell her.....?" Yet, despite their disappointment in themselves, Ash and Lucy went to bed happier than they had been in a long time. 

The next day, Ashton instructed everyone to gather upon the rooftop at around noon for lunch. Zandria was cooking up a teriyaki stir-fry with vegetables and shrimp, the aroma wafting over the city rooftops. Rukaria smiled, "There's nothing like a cookout for lunch!" Zandria nodded, "You said it. But I have to wonder why Ashton wanted us out here today when we could've eaten inside too." Ash was playing with his children while the three Lucario sisters chatted amongst themselves. Shadow and Lucius seemed to be having a light sparring session to pass the time as well as to build up a hearty appetite. But all the while, Ashton was constantly scanning the horizon to the south. 

After several minutes of sparring, Shadow and Lucius decided to take a while to rest. Shadow promptly noticed Ashton watching the sky to the south and approached him. "What's up? Does it look like we'll be getting some rain?" Ashton turned to the Lucario, "That's not it. Just watching for someone." Shadow too decided to watch the sky for a while. But just as Zandria was putting the finishing touches on her cooking, Ashton noticed something soaring through the sky towards them. "That must be her." He quickly drew the Flamberge out from under his cloak and raised it above him, reflecting the sunlight off of the polished metal blade. The figure seemed to notice the signal, as it seemed to change course slightly, heading directly towards them. Once it came closer, Ashton placed the Flamberge beneath his cloak again. The figure began to descend, everyone scattering to get out of the way. Upon landing, the visitor was warmly greeted by Ashton, who gave it a gentle embrace. "Welcome back, Chiara." 

Upon seeing the midget Lugia, Ash ran over to her. "Chiara, did you make it back home OK? Is all my money there?" The Lugia scholar smiled, "Yes. Your mother promptly opened a savings account for you. That is, after she awakened from her fainting spell." The Trainer chuckled, "Yeah. I didn't think she'd ever expect me to get that rich at my age." However, he soon noticed something unusual. Strapped to Chiara's side was a leather satchel not unlike those used by mail carriers. "Hey, where'd you get that? And what's in it?" Chiara glanced down at the bag and grinned, "I'm glad you noticed. Here. I'll show you." She then reached in and pulled out a handful of currency. "Just in case you needed more." Once Ash had placed the money inside his backpack, Chiara then carefully dumped the remaining contents of her bag onto the floor. Zandria seemed to recognize them immediately. "Chiara... Are those...?" The Lugia nodded, "They are. Serenade's medical tools." 

Lying on the floor were antique medical tools used during the middle ages. Despite being so clearly old and out of date, they were in shockingly good shape without a hint of rust. Among them were various medicinal herbs, including supplies of Sleep Powder for use as an anesthetic. Lucy gulped, "Some of these look pretty scary..." But Chiara smiled reassuringly, "Have no fear. Serenade was a master of medicine. And these tools helped her greatly. Of course, I too have perfected my skill with them as well." But Ashton then asked, "But why did you bring them along?" The Lugia turned to him, "While we have a solid supply of potions and antidotes for healing Pokémon injuries, we are severely lacking in resources to counter serious wounds, such as broken bones or ruptured organs. With these tools, I am able to tend to someone's wounds on the spot instead of having to potentially take hours to get the person to a hospital." Ashton nodded, "I see. A very wise choice, Chiara." 

Once Chiara had put her tools away, Lucius stepped forward. "Um... And who are you?" Chiara turned to face the Lucario. She immediately did not recognize him as he was a Shiny Lucario and was wearing his black trench coat. "I do not believe we have met." Ashton walked over to Lucius and smiled, "We made a new friend during your absence. His name is Lucius. Apparently, he is Lucy's long lost brother." The Lugia gasped and turned to Lucy, "Your brother?!" But the Lucario maiden shook her head, "I have no memory of him. Don't take his claim too seriously." But Lucius then whispered to Chiara, "We both don't remember as we were separated at a very young age, but I just know that she's my sister." The Lugia giggled, "Ooh, I see now. In any case, it is a pleasure to meet you, Lucius." The Shiny Lucario nodded, "Likewise, Chiara." With introductions complete, everyone enjoyed lunch together and headed downstairs afterwards to ground level and proceeded towards Jubilife City's eastern gate.

Two days later, Ash and his companions came within sight of the Oreburgh Gate. Ash grumbled, "Better not get jumped by another Gligar..." He then turned to Rukaria, "And if we DO get jumped by one and it lands on my face, don't hit me again." The blind Lucario maiden chuckled nervously, "I said I was sorry! I honestly didn't expect you to feel that one!" Once they were standing at the entrance to the cave-like tunnel, Ashton began to reach for the Flamberge's hilt. But Ash grabbed his arm, "It's OK, Ashton. I've got this one." The Trainer then tossed a Poké Ball, "Come on out, Ember!" In a flash of light, the ball burst open, revealing a small fiery orange chimp with a sizeable flame billowing from its backside. 

"Feels good to get outta that Poké Ball for a while, huh?" Ash asked with a smile as his Chimchar friend gazed up at him. He then pointed towards the entrance of the Oreburgh Gate, "OK, Ember. We need your help. It's pretty dark in there, but we need to get through. Think you could lead the way with that flame of yours?" The Chimchar responded by doing the one thing no one was expecting. She smiled widely and spoke, "Sure! I can handle that!" Ember spoke with the voice of a young girl in a bright and cheerful tone.

Ash staggered back in surprise at Ember's words. "What the?! Since when could you speak English?!" The Chimchar pointed, "Mr. Ashton taught me how!" Chiara grinned as she turned towards her lover, "Did you now?" The viscount chuckled, "I did. During our stay in Jubilife, I took the time to tutor her in speech. I do believe the lessons paid off in the end." Ruby laughed, "I'll say they did! And she sounds so cute too!" The Chimchar then climbed up Ash's body and stood atop his head, "I'll point the way, Ash. You just lead on." The group then proceeded inside the Oreburgh Gate. The flame on Ember's posterior brightly illuminated the area around them. Ash smiled, "Looks like I called it right by asking you for help. Thanks, Ember." The Chimchar giggled, "You're so sweet, Ash. My last Trainer was never as nice as you." 

After a short while, Ash allowed Ember to walk ahead of them and set her down. Lucash proceeded to run up beside her and they chatted playfully as the Chimchar led her friends through the cave. But after a short while, Pearl increased her pace until she was beside Ash. She then reached out and held his arm, nuzzling him gently. "Um... Something you wanna tell me?" Ash asked, somewhat concerned by the sudden display of affection. The Lucario sighed, "Feel and see for yourself." She brought Ash's hand down to her lower belly. He blushed, feeling a definite bulge in her belly. Pearl was by then one quarter through her pregnancy. 

Pearl blushed deeply, holding the hand of the father of her child to her belly. "My dream is finally coming true... And I have you to thank for it, Ash." Pearl gently leaned against him, not minding that others were watching. Ash smiled, "I'm glad it's finally happening too." But after a moment, a question crossed the Trainer's mind. "Pearl, what do your parents will think when they figure out they're gonna be grandparents soon?" Much to his surprise, Pearl scowled. "I would prefer to never see them again. After what they did to Ruby, I lost all respect for them. I continued to support them since they were family, but... Let's just say they are one of the bigger reasons of why I wanted to leave Hoenn." Ash frowned, but soon smiled, "I know you won't be like them. We'll teach our kid to respect others regardless of what they look like." The Lucario grinned, "That we will, dear!" 

As the exit to the Oreburgh Gate finally came into view, Ash thanked Ember for her services before returning the Chimchar to her Poké Ball. With only the light at the end of the tunnel to guide them, the group made a dash for the exit. Upon emerging from the cave, everyone once again found himself or herself a short distance from Oreburgh City. Ash shuddered in excitement. His first Sinnoh League Gym battle was about to begin. "You remember the way, Shadow?" The Lucario warrior grinned at his Trainer, "Sure do. Follow me." He then broke into a run; his companions following close behind him. 

Once outside the Oreburgh Gym, Ash savored the moment before entering. While the walls and ceiling of the Gym were modern; the entire floor was covered in rocky ground and craggy boulders jutting from the floor. "Dang. This brings back memories of my battle with Brock in Pewter City. This Gym definitely specializes in Rock type Pokémon." An unfamiliar voice spoke up from behind the group, "Sure does. Anything I can help you guys with?" Everyone suddenly turned to face the owner of the voice who had just entered the Gym. A young man stood before them while wearing a red mining helmet and glasses with rectangular lenses. Both his hair and eyes were a cordovan red color. He wore gray pants and a gray jacket with golden yellow horizontal bars in some spots, as well as a black undershirt that could be seen under his unzipped jacket. He also wore white gloves with golden yellow wrists and black boots. He spoke cheerfully, "The name's Roark. I'm the Oreburgh Gym Leader." 

Ash immediately jumped forward upon hearing Roark's identity. "Awesome! Then I challenge you to a battle! Winner gets a badge, right?" The Gym Leader chuckled, "Quick to the point, huh? But since you're challenging me, may I at least know your name?" The Trainer replied, "Ash Ketchum. From Pallet Town." Roark smiled as he shook Ash's hand, "All the way from Kanto, huh? You've come a long way to battle me. Well then, I gladly accept your challenge. Been getting kinda boring around here anyway. Been around two weeks since my last challenger..." But the Trainer smirked, "Oh, I'll get you excited really fast. And to mix things up a bit, I'll bet this battle on just one Pokémon. OK?" Roark's response to Ash's boast was first a stare, and then a hearty laugh. "That's a first! Never met someone with your confidence! Tell me. What will you use?" Shadow stepped forward, "Me." 

Roark stared at Shadow, surprised to hear a Pokémon speak in English. "Um... A Pokémon that can talk? That's new." Pearl then spoke up, "All Lucario are knowledgeable in human speech. You shouldn't be that surprised." The Gym Leader quickly regained his composure, "Oh, I get it now. So, you're the one-shot wonder Ash is using?" Shadow nodded, "I am. We decided that I would be the only fighter in this Gym battle a while ago." Roark grinned, "Don't let the fact that you have a double type advantage against Rock types make you complacent." He then ran over to the far side of the Gym and turned to face Ash, who jumped forward while his companions watched from near the door. Shadow then jumped before Ash and cracked his knuckles, "Our first Gym battle together, eh? Let's see how a former member of the Blackflame Six stands up to an expert Pokémon Trainer's seasoned Pokémon." 

Noticing that they lacked a referee, Roark called out, "Hey! Any of you guys mind being the referee for this match?!" Ashton then stepped forward, "Allow me." He then ran to the center of the Gym and jumped to the top of a particularly tall boulder that was aligned with the wall. He then drew the Flamberge and held it in his right hand. "Sir Roark! How many Pokémon will assist you in this duel?" Ashton asked, still not entirely certain of how to address a Gym Leader. The Gym Leader chuckled, "That's pretty humble of you. But anyway, I'll use three." Ashton then glanced over at Ash and Shadow, the two of them giving him a nod. The viscount called out, "This is a 3-1 battle for a badge of the Sinnoh League! Only one combatant may take part at a time under command from either Trainer." He then pointed the Flamberge towards Roark, "Sir Roark." Ashton then brought his sword to his left hand and pointed the blade towards Ash. "Sir Ash." The viscount then took the sword in both hands and raised it above him, "May you fight with honor. Begin!" As Roark reached for his Poké Ball, he muttered to himself, "This guy's an odd one..." 

"We'll start small!" Roark tossed his Poké Ball, which burst open in a flash of light. Seconds later, a Geodude sat upon the floor. Ash grinned, "A Geodude?! Man, that really takes me back! It's like I'm taking on Brock all over again!" Roark laughed, "You mean the Leader of the Pewter City Gym?! Just because I use one of the same Pokémon he does doesn't mean we battle the same way! Geodude! Start things off with Rollout!" The Rock type Pokémon wrapped its arms over itself and went into a high-speed roll towards Shadow. 

"Don't try to dodge it, Shadow! I've seen Rollout in action before! The longer it's in use, the stronger it gets! Best to stop it as soon as it starts!" Ash called out, his eyes watching his Lucario companion closely. Shadow took a firm stance, "Got it! Just tell me when!" A moment later, Ash shouted, "Now, Shadow! Stop it with Force Palm!" Just before the Geodude could roll into Shadow, the Lucario warrior slammed his palm into it, stopping it cold as a shockwave ran through its rocky body. "That did it. Lights out." Shadow said with a smirk. But just then, the Geodude lashed out and caught Shadow in a pincer grasp, its arms tightly wrapped around his body while keeping his arms pinned to his sides. "What the crap?!" Despite his physical prowess, Shadow could not break free. 

"Fell for it! Now, Geodude! Finish him off with a Seismic Toss!" Roark pointed towards the ceiling as he called out. As instructed, the Geodude shot upward with Shadow still in its grip. As everyone looked on in concern, Ash muttered, "Come on, Shadow. You've gotten outta tougher spots than this. You can still win." Just as the Geodude reached the top of its jump, Shadow glanced down at the Rock type's face and opened his mouth. He let out a roar as he used Dragon Pulse, blasting the Geodude pointblank with a burst of draconic energy. Stunned, the Geodude released its grip on the Lucario. "My turn now!" Shadow slammed his elbow into the Geodude, causing it to end up below him. He then held his palm just inches away from its face as an Aura Sphere formed in it. "Lights out!" The Lucario warrior blasted the Geodude to the ground in a fabulous wave of Aura, the blue life energy exploding with great force upon impact.

Shadow landed beside the Geodude, lightly nudging it with his foot to check if it was still conscious. "Yep. He's down for the count." The Lucario then grabbed and threw the Rock type over to Roark, who quickly returned it to its Poké Ball. Ashton pointed the Flamberge towards Ash. "Round 1 goes to the challenger!" Ash's companions burst into cheering at the flawless triumph over Roark's first Pokémon. "You're the coolest, Dad! You and Shadow make an awesome team!" Lucash shouted with excitement. Sapphire too cheered wildly, her hands somehow overcharged with her Aura and glowing brightly, almost like a cheerleader's pompoms. "Woo! You show him, Daddy!" Roark blushed slightly, "Well, that was embarrassing. No one's ever turned my Geodude's Seismic Toss against it before." Ash also spoke, "I wasn't expecting that either, Shadow. The way you broke outta there was really over the top." The Lucario chuckled, "Plenty of time on the battlefield has taught me all the tricks I need to survive."

Roark pulled out another Poké Ball and enlarged it. "Just don't drop your guard yet. I've still got two more!" Seconds later, an Onix towered above Shadow. "Um... This is new. I'm not used to taking on opponents of THIS size." Shadow gulped, slightly intimidated by the unexpected size of his opponent. But Ash chuckled, "An Onix too? I swear, I almost think Brock taught you how to battle! Anyway, don't be fooled, Shadow! Size isn't everything!" The Lucario nodded, "You've got a point there." He stood ready, having never actually witnessed an Onix in battle before. Just then, the massive rock serpent dashed towards Shadow with a Double-Edge. Shocked by its speed, Shadow opted to try and stop the attack instead of evading it. The Onix's head slammed into Shadow's outstretched arms, bulldozing him across the battlefield. Upon realizing that he was on the verge of being sent into the wall, Shadow vaulted over the Onix's head and struck it in the center of its body with a Force Palm. Unable to stop itself, the Onix slammed headfirst into the wall. 

"That was an amateur's mistake." Shadow grumbled, disappointed that the Onix's attack was so easily used against it. But as the massive serpent curled back to face Shadow; everyone saw that it was perfectly fine. "Hang on! Double-Edge is supposed to cause harm to the user, but you don't look even mildly fazed?!" Shadow shouted in frustration. Roark replied, "That's because my Onix has the Rock Head ability! It won't feel the recoil of those attacks! Now, Screech!" The rock serpent responded by spouting an unbearable high-pitched shriek. "That's so loud! Arrgh!!!" Shadow closed his eyes and covered his ears, as did everyone else in the Gym. Seconds later, Ash looked up and shouted, "Shadow! Heads-up!" Barely hearing his Trainer in time, Shadow glanced up and saw the Onix's tail about to fall on him with a Slam attack. "Dang it!" Unable to evade, the Slam crashed upon Shadow loudly.

Seeing that Shadow had taken the attack without a chance to defend, Roark nodded, "I guess that did it.... What the?!" The eyes of the Gym Leader went wide as the Onix's tail began to rise. Underneath, Shadow had reached up and caught the descending tail at the last second. "Dang, this guy's heavy!" Shadow growled, straining under the extreme weight. Seeing that Shadow was well, Ash smiled, "Then let's fix that! Use Bulk Up!" The Lucario responded by focusing his physical energy, causing his body's muscles to expand slightly. "Hey! This guy feels pretty light now!" Much to the shock of almost everyone present, Shadow began to swing the Onix around like a massive flail. "Let's wrap this up, big guy!" The Lucario released his grip on the rock serpent, sending it flying towards the wall. Upon tossing it, Shadow also launched an Aura Sphere at the Onix, which exploded into it an instant after the massive serpent struck the wall. The Onix then fell to the floor with a crash, clearly unconscious. Ashton then once again pointed the Flamberge towards Ash, "Round 2 goes to the challenger!" 

As Ash's friends and family burst into applause, Roark recalled his Onix to its Poké Ball. "I never knew just how versatile a Lucario could be. This match is turning out to be quite entertaining, yet educational too." However, he then calmly pulled out a third Poké Ball and enlarged it, "But this is where the fun stops. You'll have to give it your all if you wanna come out on top this time!" With nothing more to say, Roark tossed the ball. In a flash of light, a Pokémon stood before the Gym Leader that no one recognized. Ash pulled out his Pokédex, "This one's new. What is it?" The Pokédex activated and scanned the creature before it. "Rampardos, the Head Butt Pokémon and the evolved form of Cranidos. Its Headbutt attack is so powerful that it can pulverize even the sturdiest of objects with one hit." The Pokémon seemed to be a dinosaur-like creature with a mostly dark gray body with bands of blue that were identical in color to the blue fur of a Lucario. It stood on two legs and had a thick domed skull, ideal for ramming its opponents with. Its red eyes gazed at its opponent warily. 

"Never saw anything like this back in Hoenn... Even if it is a Rock type, it has the element of surprise. And he wouldn't be saving this one for last for nothing... I'd best watch myself." Shadow took a cautious stance, uncertain of what to expect. After a moment, the Rampardos charged at Shadow, its head held low. Ash called out, "Let's play it safe! Use Aura Sphere!" As instructed, Shadow sent a massive wave of his Aura towards the Rampardos. But instead of being struck down, it charged right through it! As it drew closer while pushing through the Aura wave, Shadow noticed that its blue skull was glowing somewhat. "That's a.....Zen Headbutt?!" Before he could react, the Lucario was hit hard and sent towards the far side of the Gym. "The Psychic type properties negated my Aura Sphere..... Clever." Upon landing, Shadow stood up, "Looks like this one's no pushover. Time to get serious." 

"Let's try speed over power. Give Agility a try." Ash spoke as Shadow caught his breath. "Got it." With an Aura Sphere in hand, he all but vanished from view while dashing around the battlefield at absurdly high speed. "I've gotcha this time!" He came to a stop right in front of the Rampardos and launched the Aura Sphere at close-range. However, the instant the blast left the Lucario's hand, the Rampardos slammed its head forward with Head Smash, striking Shadow in the chest and breaking a couple of his ribs. "It took a hit...just to get to me..." The Lucario coughed up blood, staining the floor crimson. But just then, a wave of fire was launched from the Rampardos' mouth! "No way... Flamethrower?!" The Lucario warrior shrieked in pain as the blast of fire engulfed him. He frantically rolled across the ground to put the flames out, quickly finding himself a short distance from Ash again. 

Seeing the condition Shadow was in, Roark called out, "You put up a good fight, but I strongly recommend throwing in the towel! That last hit broke a few ribs! I can't be held responsible if something tragic happens to him if you continue this battle!" Ash frowned as he saw the blood oozing from Shadow's mouth. "Shadow... You've done enough. Let's call it quits. We can try again later." But the Lucario turned to face his Trainer with a hurt gaze. "You're kidding... We both agreed that I would face this guy alone. And I won't stop until that badge is in your possession." Hearing Shadow's defiance, Ash pleaded, "Shadow, enough! You could end up getting yourself killed if you keep this fight going!" However, the Lucario calmly smiled, "After what you did for me... It's only fair that I put my life on the line to return the favor. Have faith in me. OK?" Ash remained silent for a moment before smiling, "...OK. I'm counting on you. But if things get bad, call it quits. Please." 

Having caught his second wind, Shadow walked back towards the center of the Gym. He took a defensive stance, waiting for his enemy to come to him. "Don't say I didn't warn you! Rampardos, wrap this up with another Head Smash!" Roark shouted, his Rampardos dashing towards Shadow with its head held low. But as the Rock type neared the Lucario warrior, Ash called out, "Shadow, do it!" A second later, the Rampardos staggered as a large strip of yellow cloth of sorts hit it in the face. It tried to shake it off, but the cloth had become snagged on the horns around its head. Rukaria raised an eyebrow as she saw Shadow's blue fur covering his backside. "He took off his shirt?" With a smirk, Shadow jumped straight up towards the ceiling of the Gym.

"Looks like it paid off after all." Ash smiled as he watched Shadow near the ceiling of the Gym. The Lucario then crossed his arms, his Aura beginning to radiate from his hands. Roark shouted, "Hang on! What kinda move is that?!" Ash replied, "It's Shadow's specialty!" The Trainer then looked upwards, "Show 'em whatcha got, Shadow! Aura Shuriken Storm!" Shadow grinned, "You got it!" At that instant, countless shuriken composed of Aura were thrown from Shadow. The small blue shuriken flew downwards from many angles and struck the Rampardos in a flurry of blue light. With countless Aura shuriken embedded into its hide, the Rampardos staggered forward before collapsing. Upon landing, Shadow retrieved his yellow vest from his opponent and clad himself in it. "All that training finally paid off in the end." Ashton then raised the Flamberge and pointed it towards Ash, "This battle is over! The victory goes to the challenger! Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town!" 

All of Ash's friends and family burst into wild applause and cheers. But Ash himself ran towards Shadow and caught him in a warm embrace. "You had me scared, Shadow..." The Lucario calmly smiled while embracing his friend, "I was...just returning the favor... I owe you my life..." But just then, Roark approached them after returning his Rampardos to its Poké Ball. "You really impressed me, Ash. It's not often I see someone battle in such an interesting manner." He then reached into his pocket and held out a shiny metallic badge. "I hereby award you the Coal Badge. You earned it. Both of you." Ash and Shadow gazed at the badge and then at each other. After sharing a warm smile, Shadow took the badge, but then gave it to Ash. "We earned it together. Right?" Ash smiled, "You know we did." 

A short while later, Shadow sat in the Pokémon Center while Chiara tended to his injuries. Ruby hugged her lover, "That's one down! I can't remember the last time I was that excited!" Ash chuckled, "Gym battles aren't like normal ones. There's a lot more to them." Lucy then took Ash's hand, "Then why don't we celebrate this victory?" Ash glanced down at the Lucario maiden, who gave him a quick wink. The Trainer blushed, "Sure thing. But let's take a little while to relax." 

After a short while, Lucius turned to Ashton, "You did pretty well as a referee today, Ashton." The viscount replied, "That was my first time, to be honest. I was actually a tad nervous." But the Shiny Lucario then asked, "Hey, who did you ask to forge a new sword for me?" Thinking back, Ashton replied, "An old friend of mine. She's an expert swordsmith. And come to think of it, your sword is likely ready by now." With a hint of excitement in his voice, Lucius asked, "Great! Where can we find her?" With some hesitation, Ashton grumbled, "Ironspike City..."

At the mention of her hometown, Rukaria asked, "What about Ironspike City?" Ashton explained, "I asked someone to craft a new sword for Lucius. The only problem is that the person resides within Ironspike City." Ash then asked, "And where exactly is this place?" Rukaria replied, "About a days' walk from here. You'll find Ironspike City to the southeast of Oreburgh City." The Trainer then smiled, "Then I guess we'll be heading to Ironspike City tomorrow. I can't wait to see what your hometown's like, Rukaria." The blind Lucario maiden smiled, "I wouldn't mind going home either. And I would be honored to give you the grand tour, Sir Ashton." However, the viscount winced nervously, "Sure... I'll take you up on your offer..." 

Ashton went for a walk outside, his thoughts trailing back to when he first met Rukaria. "If that is what a maiden of the Ironspike Clan is like..... Good lord, they'll tear me apart! I only pray that they never learn of my identity...."

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