"WHAT THE DEVIL ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?!" Ashton screamed at the top of his lungs upon awakening, finding numerous Lucario youths gathering up his weapons and gear. "Eek! He's awake! Run for it!" A young maiden in the group shouted upon seeing that they had been caught. "WHAT'RE YOU DOING WITH MY GEAR?! DROP IT!!!" Ashton struggled with the intruders in his hotel room, effectively beating them before they fled in a panic. The viscount grumbled as his clothes, weapons, and various other belongings were littered across the room. "What a terrible way to wake up..."
A short while later, Ashton was walking through the forests to the east of Ironspike City. Having been requested to eliminate a gang of bandits lurking around Mt. Coronet, Ashton was prepared for battle. But due to his rude awakening, he was in a very foul mood. "Can't believe they tried to take my belongings as souvenirs. Cheeky little..." But Ashton soon heard a rustling in the underbrush behind him. "Don't even try it, you little urchins!" Mostly on instinct, he spun around and threw a flurry of shuriken at the source of the sound. There was a scream of terror, followed by the sound of the shuriken striking wood. Seeing who was present, Ashton stared, "Wait a minute... Lucius?!" The Shiny Lucario was clad in his favorite black trench coat, but was frozen in terror as he was leaning against a tree with the many shuriken embedded in the bark around him.
Shivering in fear, Lucius dropped to the ground, "Wh...what the hell was that for?! Scared the crap outta me!" Ashton walked over to Lucius and retrieved the shuriken he had thrown, "My sincerest apologies. I thought you were the same group of youths who tried to loot my quarters in my sleep." The Shiny Lucario panted, "Still...don't you think that reaction was a bit extreme?" The viscount chuckled, "Now that you mention it.....yes." He then helped Lucius to his feet and asked, "But why are you out here?" The Shiny Lucario smirked after he regained his composure, "I heard about Night Claw's request to you and decided to tag along. It would be a great way to test out my new sword."
Ashton merely stared at Lucius for a moment before explaining, "Lucius... This won't be a battle against just a few foes. I'm talking about dozens of enemies. And we have no way of knowing how they fight." Lucius nodded, "I expected that. Don't worry. I wouldn't be coming with you if I had any doubts about this. Besides... After reading about you at the museum in Ironspike City yesterday, I'm extremely curious about your abilities in battle. More than anything, I want to be able to see you in action with my own eyes." Ashton, impressed by Lucius' confidence, smiled, "Then let us face the enemy together. It's an honor to have you along, Sir Lucius." The Shiny Lucario chuckled, "No need for the honorifics. I was just a wandering vagabond before I bumped into you guys."
While Ashton and Lucius chatted during their trek, someone whistled from behind them. "Hey, Ashton! Wait up!" The two companions turned to face the owner of the voice. "Zandria? And.....Rukaria?" The Zangoose and blind Lucario maiden ran towards them. "Heard you were gonna take out some bandits. We're here to back you up." Zandria spoke with a confident grin. Ashton chuckled, "Seeing as how you're already dead, I don't see how they can even harm you. But..." He then faced Rukaria, "What about you? Surely you understand the threat. I don't recommend accompanying us." Rukaria then gave Ashton a glare as if she had been insulted. "Have you really forgotten? I can't be killed. I can serve as a fighter and a shield. Besides..." She then stared at the ground, leaning on her Hyup Do for support. Lucius asked, "What's wrong? Is there something else?" Rukaria muttered, "I seek.....revenge..."
Everyone's eyes gazed at Rukaria as she spoke her motive. Zandria asked, "Revenge? For what? Is there someone in their ranks you hold a grudge against?" Rukaria shook her head, "No. The ones I held anything against are long dead. There's no way they could still be alive today. But even so..." Ashton then asked, "What happened between you and those bandits?" The blind Lucario maiden explained, "It happened over a century ago... I was captured... They did.....horrible things to me. The only reason I survived the torture was because they simply could not kill me." Hearing this, Ashton clenched his fists, "That only makes me want to slaughter them all the more." The viscount then placed his hand on Rukaria's shoulder, "Don't worry. There won't be any survivors today. I'll make sure these bandits never have the chance to harm anyone ever again." The blind Lucario glumly nodded, "Thanks..."
Moments later, Zandria stopped as she noticed an unusual scent on the wind. "Is that who I think it is?" Rukaria stopped and replied, "There doesn't seem to be anyone nearby. If there was, I would've spotted them." But the Zangoose smirked, "I'm sure you can only see the world as Aura signatures from a certain distance. No wonder you didn't notice. Only living creatures produce Aura." Lucius asked, "Living? You mean.....a specter?" Ashton smiled, "Seems we have another ally. Lady Shield! Please, do come forward!"
Rukaria froze. "Shield? She's still in this world...?" The sound of footsteps began to approach the four companions. Before long, an abnormally tall Shiny Lucario emerged through the trees, a familiar sword on her back. "Hello again, Lady Zandria." Her royal purple eyes then gazed upon Rukaria as she smiled warmly, "It's been quite a while, Rukaria. Are you well?" The blind Lucario maiden could only stare in bewilderment at the Lucario blacksmith before her. "Shield... You..." Lucius asked, "You know her?" Before anyone knew what had happened, Rukaria dropped her weapon and sailed into the arms of her former mentor. She sobbed happily, "I haven't seen you in decades! I missed you so!" Shield tenderly embraced her pupil, "I told you, didn't I? I would always be watching you."
As he watched the student and teacher hugging each other, Lucius asked, "Am I missing something here?" Ashton chuckled, "Oh, right. We never told you. Shield trained Rukaria to be a blacksmith." Zandria clapped her hands, "All right, that's enough! We have a mission to deal with, right?" Rukaria dried her tears, "Right... Those bandits need to be dealt with." Shield then added, "And that's why I'm here. I hope you don't mind a little extra support." Before anyone else could offer any input, Rukaria grinned, "Really?! That's awesome! It'll be great to fight alongside you, Shield!" Ashton nodded, "And since you're already dead, there's no need to fear injury. I am especially curious to see how your skills with that snake sword differ from Black Mist's." Shield bowed, "It will be a battle worth remembering, my lord. It's an honor to be able to fight by your side."
The five companions walked along, casually chatting with each other to pass the time. But before long, Ashton asked, "Any sign of the enemy, Rukaria?" The blind maiden replied, "There are a few scouts at our sides. And they're moving east to alert their allies." Ashton nodded, "Let them. Wait for as many as possible to show up so we can wipe them all out before they have the chance to retreat." He then reached into the pouch on the back of his hip and pulled out a scroll. Upon unfurling it, he pressed his hand against a symbol drawn onto it, causing the viscount to be engulfed by a puff of white smoke. When the smoke cleared, Ashton was clad in his favorite suit of armor, complete with his winged helmet atop his head. Hanging from the back of his red pauldrons and blue breastplate was a deep-blue cape as opposed to the all-encompassing cloak he normally wore. Shield whistled, "That's an impressive suit of armor. Just like the one in the museum." Ashton smiled, "Thank you, Shield. It has served me well in many battles."
Further to the east, a few young men clad in rugged leather outfits suitable for hunters stood before a woman with silver hair. "Heheh. Looks like we've got some interesting folks heading this way, boss." The woman smirked, "Nicely done. And what do they seem to be carrying with them?" Another man replied, "Believe it or not, all but one of them are Pokémon. Three are Lucario while another is a Zangoose. And all the Lucario look different from those in Ironspike City. We could get quite a haul by selling them to collectors." The woman grinned wickedly, "Very nice. And anyone else?" The last of the men explained, "There seems to be some kid with them. He's wearing some really expensive-looking antique armor. He also has a huge sword. That stuff would probably fetch a good price at museums." The woman then adjusted her leather gloves and raised a hand, signaling dozens of other men hidden behind her in the woods. "Move out, boys. It's our first catch of the day."
Rukaria was the first to notice the many humans closing in around her and her companions. "Looks like we're already surrounded." Ashton then stopped in his tracks. "Perfect. Like lambs to the slaughter." The five companions stood ready, waiting for the enemy to emerge. Soon, bandits clad in various hunting outfits and forest camouflage emerged from the trees and surrounded their prey. Ashton's eyes calmly surveyed the situation. "They're fairly well-organized for brigands." Shield nodded, "They know this area well. It's only natural that they would be able to quickly surround their targets." Most of the bandits had their weapons holstered, but a handful had machetes and combat knives drawn. One spoke, "You know the drill. Fork over your valuables and Pokémon if you wanna get away in one piece." Ashton calmly retorted, "I do not believe I will." But as he reached for his sword, a woman's voice spoke out, "Stand down, boys. I want to see this guy." The bandits who were blocking the eastern side of the path began to step aside to allow someone through. A woman stepped forward, a longsword on her back. But as Ashton and Zandria gazed upon her, she noticed their puzzled expressions. Zandria muttered, "I know I've seen that face somewhere before..." But Ashton's eyes soon went wide as he recognized her features. "That hair... And that face... J... You... You're dead!"
The woman standing before Ashton bore an uncanny resemblance to the recently deceased Hunter J. Her silver hair was styled in the exact same fashion while her eyes and face were identical. However, her attire was much more rugged, consisting of sturdy hiking boots and hunting gear complete with a flak jacket. She also wore thick leather shoulder pads, possibly for hoisting her sword onto her shoulder without risking injury. At the mention of the despicable Hunter J, the woman scowled, "How would you know? What do you know of my sister? Are you saying you're the one who killed her?!" Ashton frowned, "No, although I wish I was. I was not fortunate enough to reach her before she was butchered to death." Sneering, the woman began to slowly draw her sword. "You've got a lot of balls, badmouthing the twin sister of the Bandit Lord. Watch your mouth if you want to get outta here with your life."
Hearing the alias of the woman before him, Ashton chuckled, "Bandit Lord, you say? Then I assume you are the leader of these lowlifes?" The bandits around him became somewhat irritated from Ashton's smug demeanor and drew their weapons, though their leader gave them a sign to stand down. The Bandit Lord then demanded, "Last chance. Fork over your Pokémon and gear now and we'll let you go." But at this demand, Ashton burst into hysterical laughter, surprising everyone around him. One of the bandits shouted, "This ain't comedy hour, chump!" Ashton calmed down somewhat and smirked, "Don't delude yourselves. Do you honestly believe we knowingly entered your territory just to fall victim to your ambush?"
The Bandit Lord gave Ashton a rather disturbed glare, "You... You knew we were coming?" The viscount smirked, "Rukaria alerted us to the presence of your scouts, yet we still marched on. Tell me, why do you suppose we're even here?" After a moment of silence, Ashton took the Flamberge in hand and scowled at the Bandit Lord, "The answer is quite simple. We came here to slaughter every last one of you." Shield and Lucius drew their swords while Zandria extended her claws. Rukaria took the Hyup Do in both hands and held the blade out in front of her. Zandria grinned sadistically, "We won't be taking any prisoners. You're gonna die here."
One of the bandits spoke up, "That Zangoose can talk?!" Shield smirked, "Not just her! Each of us is educated in human speech." Ashton explained, "These Pokémon are not my servants. Far from it. They are my allies and friends! But you who view Pokémon as mere livestock and property couldn't possibly understand..." He then glared at the Bandit Lord, "As I was unable to kill J, you will suffer all of her punishment instead along with your own." But the Bandit Lord calmly smirked, "Not unless you die first. Now!" Before Ashton could react, he suddenly felt something wrap around his left hand! "Just you and me!" He turned to his left and found one of the bandits with his own left hand wrapped in a chain. The chain was also wrapped tightly around Ashton's left hand, binding them together. In the bandit's spare hand was what seemed to be a switchblade. Ashton shouted, "What kind of hand-to-hand combat is this?!" The Bandit Lord replied, "It's called street fighting."
"Sir Ashton! Allow me!" Rukaria shouted as she readied her weapon. But the viscount replied, "No! This is my fight! I can handle it!" Ashton tried his best to lash out at his opponent with the Flamberge, but the long reach of the blade was ill-suited for striking his foe as the bandit was hard for his sword to strike without cutting through his own arm. "Ya better do something fast, chump!" The bandit lashed out at Ashton's throat, one of the few places on his body that was still exposed. Being unable to back away due to being bound to his opponent, Ashton had great difficulty evading the strikes. "Fine! Bring it!" He quickly placed the Flamberge on his back and pulled a kunai from the pouch on the back of his hip. "Now ya got the idea! Bring it on, punk!"
Ashton and the bandit took turns slashing at each other's throats, effectively dancing while they jumped around. The rest of the bandits even began to cheer with excitement. But after a minute or two, Ashton growled, "Enough of this farce!" Focusing his Chakra into his left arm, Ashton began to swing the bandit around like a rag doll. "What the crap is this?!" The bandit yelled as he whirled through the air. Eventually, the chain that was wrapped around their left hands began to loosen. Noticing this, Ashton called out, "Lucius! Get ready!" The Shiny Lucario gripped the hilt of his new tachi with both hands as he prepared for an overhead swing, "Got it!" Moments later, the chain unraveled and the bandit was sent flying towards Lucius. The Lucario responded by swinging downward with his sword, neatly cleaving the bandit in two at the waist as the two halves rolled along the ground past him. Lucius muttered, "Cut through him like paper..."
Once he had returned his kunai to the pouch on his hip, Ashton took the Flamberge in hand and glared at the bandits that still surrounded him. His eyes were fierce and hateful. He then glanced towards his four companions, "You handle the small fry. The leader is mine." Hearing this, the Bandit Lord smirked, "No wonder you can carry that sword with just one hand. But you're not the only one." She then hoisted her longsword to her shoulder, all while not showing any strain or difficulty. Ashton scowled, "You seem to be well-trained in the use of great swords as well. Though you should bear in mind that my weapon is far heavier than yours. One strike will cleave you in two." The Bandit Lord then called out, "Tear them asunder, boys! But go easy on the Pokémon! I need them alive."
The bandits descended upon the five companions like a swarm of locusts with their weapons drawn. Rukaria intercepted one bandit, as he was about to strike Ashton from behind with a sledgehammer, impaling him on the Hyup Do's blade before flinging him into another bandit. "I've got your back, Sir Ashton!" While Rukaria defended Ashton from behind, the viscount crossed swords with the Bandit Lord. He initially surprised her with his speed and dexterity for someone clad in heavy plate armor, but she proved to be equally nimble and was even able to effectively wield her longsword with just one hand at times. The Bandit Lord cackled, "Don't go down too quickly, boy! I don't often get a chance to really show my stuff like this!"
Nearby, Zandria began to hew through several bandits using nothing more than the claws on her right hand. Her smaller frame granted her greater agility, allowing her to weave around the attacks that came her way. "Come on, boys! You should know by now that we Zangoose specialize in raw power and speed!" However, just after gutting one of the bandits, another drew a pistol and fired, sending a bullet through the Zangoose's head. "Gotcha, ya cheeky son of a....huh?!" Upon being shot, Zandria burst into a cloud of white mist. "Crap! I didn't mean to blow it to smithereens! There goes my share of the loot....." However, the cloud quickly moved behind him and rapidly solidified. "How can you expect to kill someone who's already dead?" Before the bandit could turn around, Zandria sank her claws into the back of his neck. A few other bandits watched as their comrade fell to the ground. One shouted, "What the hell are you?!" Zandria licked the blood from her claws, "Let's just say I'm something that you can't possibly kill. But that doesn't mean I can't kill you!"
Shield used her Mirage Blade to deflect the attacks of her enemies, using her Aura to blow away the bandits if they were on the verge of swarming her in the form of a type of shockwave. However, several bandits lined up in a row as they charged her. The Shiny Lucario blacksmith smirked, "Perfect formation." She then pulled her sword back and then thrust it forward as she adjusted her grip on the hilt slightly. As the Mirage Blade was thrust forward, the snake sword extended, the chained blade impaling the bandits in a straight line while curving slightly to avoid missing even one. Once her foes had been impaled, Shield pulled her sword back, ripping the fragmented blade from the bandits. On each of the eight fragments of the blade were internal organs that had been skewered. After making the blade whole again and removing the entrails, Shield once again allowed her sword to extend into its whip state. She then smirked, "Anyone else want to feel the fangs of my snake sword?" The bandits, while somewhat terrified over the sickening demise of their allies, pressed into the assault.
Lucius slashed through his opponents in a style that was very wild, often going airborne through small jumps and spins. His tachi's blade was constantly engulfed with a blue glow as he channeled his Aura through it. With each cut he made, his Aura seeped into his opponents' bodies and inflicted deeper wounds by causing physical trauma in the same fashion as an Aura Sphere, though on a much smaller scale. However, one of the bandits managed to get behind the Shiny Lucario and attempted to smash his skull in with a club. "Lights out, mutt!" However, just as the bandit swung downwards, Lucius vanished and appeared twenty feet away from the bandit in the blink of an eye. "Too slow, as always." However, Ashton took note of the split second movement Lucius made. (I didn't even blink, yet he went from that spot to another in a fraction of a second. Was it the Body Flicker Technique?) He threw up his blade to defend against a strike from the Bandit Lord, having to focus the majority of his efforts on combating her.
Rukaria weaved around her opponents and lashed out with the heavy blade at the end of her Hyup Do, severing limbs and even heads with deadly precision. However, she soon noticed out of the corner of her eye a bandit hiding in some bushes behind Ashton while the viscount dueled the Bandit Lord. He seemed to be loading a firearm of sorts. (Is that...a submachine gun?!) Knowing that Ashton's armor was not designed to withstand a barrage of bullets, Rukaria made a desperate lunge for him. "Sir Ashton! Don't move!" Just as the blind Lucario was about to reach Ashton, the bandit leapt from the bushes and took aim from a few feet away. "So long, sucker!" But just as the bandit was about to pull the trigger, Rukaria dove in front of Ashton. There was a series of loud pops as the submachine gun opened fire, dumping every last round of ammunition into Rukaria.
The battlefield became eerily quiet as the gunfire ceased. Everyone turned to face Rukaria, the entire front side of her body oozing blood from the dozens of bullet wounds riddling her torso. The bandit who was holding the submachine gun staggered back, "Crap... I wasn't aiming for her!" Ashton quietly muttered, "Rukaria..... No..." However, the blind Lucario maiden gagged as she coughed up blood. One by one, the bullets fell from her body as her wounds closed. Frightened that the Lucario before him was still alive after being shot dozens of times and was rapidly healing, the bandit panicked and drew a pistol, "Screw this! I'm gonna kill this freak!" Before the Bandit Lord could order her subordinate to stand down, the bandit fired a bullet into Rukaria's head at pointblank range. Her head reeled back from the force of the shot, the bullet passing through and splattering her blood all over Ashton's breastplate. However, she soon growled, "That..." Before the bandit could reload his submachine gun, Rukaria reached down into the fur on her upper left leg and drew her kris dagger. She then screamed as she completed her sentence, "...fricking hurt!" The blind Lucario performed a swift upward underhand slash, gutting the bandit before her in a spray of blood. Lucius muttered, "Dang... True immortal indeed." The rest of the bandits soon understood that Rukaria was far from finished and resumed the offensive before their targets could take the initiative. But before he resumed his duel with the Bandit Lord, Ashton smiled, "I'm in your debt, Rukaria." The blind Lucario maiden regained her composure after 'sheathing' her dagger, "As I said, I've got your back."
Rukaria fought her way back towards her former mentor as Shield lashed out with her snake sword. The fragmented blade slashed her foes like a barbed whip, and could even move as if it was alive while she channeled her Aura through it, allowing it to strike her foes without her having to swing the hilt. Every now and then, a bandit would manage to get through her defenses and land an attack. But being a specter, Shield was beyond death, causing the attacks to be rendered useless. One of the bandits yelled, "What's going on here?! It's like we haven't even touched her!" Rukaria shouted as she cleaved through a bandit's skull, "How do you kill someone who's already dead?!" Shield then answered as she lassoed the Mirage Blade around another's neck, "It's quite simple, really. You do not!" With a quick yank of the hilt, the fragmented blade of her sword shredded the bandit's neck in a spray of blood. Ashton had noticed the attack and sweated while a little blue in the face, (So THAT is what would've happened if Black Mist went through with her threats...)
Zandria continued to mystify the bandits by frequently bursting into clouds of spectral mist and then solidifying in new locations to attack her enemy's blind spots. But before long, she noticed another bandit approaching Ashton from behind. "Ashton, heads-up!" Noticing the bandit at the last second, Ashton jumped forward as the bandit tried to bring a hand axe down into his head. The attack narrowly missed the viscount himself, but caught his cape and partially tore it off. The entire middle section of the cape had been ripped off from top to bottom, though the sides of it that extended from under his pauldrons remained intact. Clearly annoyed by the damage to his cape, Ashton growled, "You pest! Stay out of this!" Wasting no time, the viscount turned and cleaved the bandit in two at the waist with the Flamberge. He then kicked the Bandit Lord away as she tried to slash him from behind. "The more your allies keep interfering, the angrier I become! Don't make your suffering any worse!" But the Bandit Lord smirked, "What suffering? You're the one who's about to die!"
Nearby, Lucius was beginning to grow desperate as the remaining bandits began to rush him from all sides. "They're starting to wise up... Fine." He then plunged the tip of his sword into the ground while channeling his Aura through it. Seconds later, his Aura erupted from the ground around him in all directions in the form of a circle with a 10-foot diameter. Any bandits that were caught in the blast did not survive long as the Aura ravaged their bodies, causing massive internal trauma. Once he removed the sword from the ground, Lucius swung his sword hard in a horizontal sweep, unleashing a sort of sonic wave from the blade composed of his Aura. The wave was crescent-shaped and shot through the bandits without resistance as it lacked physical mass. But while the skin remained whole, their internal organs and muscles were affected in the same way as if a steel blade had cut through them. Lucius smirked, "Man, I absolutely LOVE this sword!"
Ashton and the Bandit Lord crossed blades as their swords clashed against each other time and again, neither being able to truly gain the upper hand. Ashton grumbled to himself, (I can't believe she's able to keep up with me! But I can't let her die quickly! I must make sure she suffers good and long before I kill her! But with all these other brigands jumping in, I just can't get the chance I need!) Eventually, the two warriors locked blades, trying to push each other back. The Bandit Lord sneered, "You're pretty good, kid. This is actually a lot of fun." But in Ashton's mind, his patience was finally running thin. (Forget this. Just looking at this beast makes me sick!) He then growled, "I don't care if I can make you suffer or not! You die NOW!!!"
Completely out of patience, Ashton moved to slay the Bandit Lord once and for all. He first kicked her away to create a little distance between them before focusing his Chakra into his legs. The Bandit Lord soon recovered from the blow and lunged at the viscount with her sword held high. "This is where we part, brat! Say hello to my sister when you see her!" But as the blade of the longsword came down on him, Ashton replied, "Why bother? You're the one who's about to see her. Not me." An instant later, the blade of the longsword struck the ground where Ashton had been standing. "What the... Gone?!" But seconds later, the Bandit Lord glanced upwards to see Ashton coming down at her with the Flamberge in both hands. In defense, she raised her sword above her and held it horizontally to block the blow. Ashton then brought his sword down hard, his eyes filled with wrath. "DIE, YOU WITCH!!!"
All eyes turned to face Ashton and the Bandit Lord as the sound of metal shattering was heard, the blade of her longsword fracturing into countless steel shards. Immediately afterward, the blade of the mighty Flamberge struck the ground between the Bandit Lord's legs. A second later, there was a horrific spray of blood as the Bandit Lord split in two down the middle, neatly cleaved in half. One of the bandits muttered, "No way... The boss is..." Slowly, Ashton turned to face the few remaining bandits; his sword caked in their leader's blood. "If it's any consolation, you will soon be joining her." He then raised his left hand as he glanced at his companions, "Slaughter them." However, rather than stay and fight, the bandits made a frantic dash to the east, struggling through the attacks of their foes. Only a few made it through unscathed while the rest were struck down. Zandria snarled, "Missed some!" But Shield grabbed the Zangoose by the shoulder, "Don't kill them just yet. Allow them to lead us to their hideout so we can finish off the rest." Ashton smirked, "Clever thinking, Lady Shield! Let us give chase!"
Rukaria led her four companions through the forest as she constantly scanned ahead to watch the fleeing bandits. Before long, they reached the towering side of Mt. Coronet's mountain range. However, at its base was what seemed to be the entrance of a tunnel carved out of the mountain. Ashton smirked, "We've got them cornered now. Time to finish them off! Charge!" But as he ran towards the entrance, Ashton stopped as he felt the extended blade of Shield's snake sword lasso him around the waist. "I don't recommend that course of action, Lord Ashton. Unless your sword is able to cleave through stone as if it were air, that is." The viscount turned to face her, "Whatever do you mean?"
Lucius approached the entrance to the underground bunker and checked the width of the passage. "She's right. This tunnel is way too narrow to use swords in. Almost none of us would be able to defend ourselves. If we go in there, we'll be used as bullet catchers." Shield then retracted her sword's blade and sheathed it, "It is also likely that this is the only entrance to the bunker as a means to prevent multiple parties from invading, making it all the more easier to defend. In other words, it will be nigh impossible for us to penetrate their defenses and wipe them out with conventional weapons." Ashton then set the Flamberge straight up by plunging the tip of its blade into the ground and brought a hand to his chin, "If that is out of the question, then the only way we can bring them down is to bury them alive by causing a cave-in."
Faced with the impossible task of outright destroying the bandit hideout, Rukaria sighed, "We were so close... Is there really no way?" Ashton grumbled, "Truly a difficult task. It would take an S-rank Earth Style ninjutsu to bring this stronghold down." But he then surprised his companions with a smile. "Fortunately, my Chakra's affinity is earth. That grants me greater control and skill with Earth Style ninjutsu. I'm sure I can bring this stronghold down." But Rukaria then exclaimed, "Earth?! I always thought that it was fire!" But the viscount chuckled, "I don't blame you for making that assumption. However, my great skill with Fire Style ninjutsu comes from the Eternal Flame. I don't even need to use my Chakra to perform them." He then made a series of hand signs. But just before he could actually perform the jutsu, Ashton seemed to freeze as an uneasy expression covered his face.
Lucius was puzzled by Ashton's pause and asked, "What's wrong? Change of plans?" The viscount replied, "I just remembered something. Night Claw told me that these bandits at times took residents of Ironspike City captive. I fear there may be hostages inside. And I do not wish to kill them along with our enemies..." Zandria then grinned, "Leave that to me. I'll check it out." The Zangoose then vaporized into a cloud of white spectral mist. Her voice spoke, "They can't even touch me when I'm like this." But Ashton explained, "But they can still see you. They may become suspicious if they notice a cloud of mist moving through the halls without fading." Zandria replied, "I'll fix that. Hang on." The cloud of mist then began to spread out, becoming steadily thinner in the process. "I'll just spread myself so thin to the point where I can't be seen." The Zangoose specter then floated into the tunnel, now virtually invisible to the naked eye.
Zandria soon found that Lucius had not been exaggerating in his warning. A short distance down the hall, she found a pair of bandits hiding behind sandbag barriers while armed with assault rifles. Anyone who came into view would be gunned down before they could react. (Looks like Lucius called it right.) She continued to float down the halls, checking every branching path she came across. Before long, Zandria found what she had been looking for. A particularly large chamber was filled with various supplies, from food to ammunition. And chained to a support pillar was a young Riolu pup. He seemed somewhat malnourished, but knew better than to try and break the pillar, as it would cause the ceiling to collapse on him. (Poor kid. Just hang on. Ashton will get you outta here.)
Around twenty minutes passed before Zandria emerged from the tunnel and solidified. Rukaria asked, "Any luck?" The Zangoose sighed, "I found one. There's a Riolu being held hostage in a storage chamber." She then extended her claws and drew a diagram of the bunker in the ground. Zandria then traced her claws along the path to the chamber. "Right there. Don't get lost." Ashton nodded and made the same series of hand signs again. But he then spoke, "If anyone other than myself emerges, strike them down. Make sure no one escapes." He then closed his eyes and muttered, "I must be as quick as possible. I have no way of knowing how long I'll have." The viscount then whispered, "To protect the life of someone precious. The first gate... Gate of Opening... Open." His body trembled as a sudden burst of Chakra surged through him. Ashton then pulled out a scroll from the pouch on the back of his hip and pressed his hand against a symbol written in it. He was then engulfed in a puff of white smoke. Seconds later, he stood clad in his traveling attire, his blue cloak encompassing him. (My armor is too bulky for moving quickly through cramped quarters. I can't afford even one mistake.) He then took the Flamberge in hand and shouted, "Earth Style!" The viscount then plunged the mighty blade into the ground, "Subterranean Cataclysm!"
The instant Ashton plunged the blade of his sword into the ground; a massive shockwave surged through the ground and into the mountainside before him. Seconds later, a loud rumbling noise was heard as the section of the mountain range directly before the five companions began to shift. Lucius shuddered, "Something with the power to level an entire mountain..." But Ashton shouted, "Stay alert, Lucius! Bandits could emerge at any moment!" The viscount then dashed into the passage before him at high speed. Zandria then prayed, "Don't get lost in there, Ashton..."
Ashton dashed through the passages of the stronghold, passing many confused bandits as the entire place crumbled around them. Following the directions Zandria had given him; Ashton soon arrived at the supply chamber. The captive Riolu was in a panic as the chamber shook violently, now trying to chew through his leather collar, but being unable to actually bring his mouth to it. Ashton ran to the pup's side, "Easy there, child. I'll get you out of here." He gently caressed the child's head, calming him. "Now, it is vital that you remain very still right now. I don't want to cut you by mistake." Ashton then pulled a kunai from the pouch on his hip and carefully cut through the leather collar. Once the child was free, he returned the kunai to his pouch. "Hang on, child. We're going home." But as he took the Riolu into his arms, a voice shouted, "Where do ya think you're going, chump?!"
Ashton turned to face the exit of the chamber and found a pair of bandits blocking the way while armed with assault rifles. "Don't know whatcha did, but you're not getting outta here alive!" But just as the bandits took aim at him, Ashton set his hand on the ground. "Earth Style: Terra Shield!" A slab of bedrock jutted up from the ground, protecting Ashton and the Riolu from the hail of bullets. One of the bandits chuckled as they both reloaded, "Doesn't matter. He shows his face, we blow his head off." They then took aim again, ready to open fire the instant Ashton emerged from behind the wall of stone.
The Riolu child began to whimper as the rumbling grew louder, dust and pebbles falling from the ceiling. Ashton glanced around, desperate to find a way past the bandits without getting shot. He then noticed the tall support pillar, which was positioned directly behind him. "I'll have to be quick, but..." Focusing his enhanced Chakra into his right arm, he smashed through the wooden support pillar with a powerful punch, snapping it in two. The bandits glanced upwards in shock as the stone ceiling began to rapidly collapse. "What the hell?!" Taking advantage of their confusion, Ashton emerged from behind the wall of stone and dashed past the bandits just as the chamber collapsed behind him.
Outside the entrance to the underground stronghold, Rukaria watched with her Hyup Do held out in front of her. A few bandits had attempted to escape, but were promptly killed upon emerging. The section of the mountain range before her seemed to be shrinking in height as time passed. "Hurry, Sir Ashton..." Just then, something burst forth from the entrance of the stronghold as a loud crash was heard, a plume of dust emerging from the entrance as the entire labyrinth of tunnels collapsed in on itself. The figure passed the four companions before coming to a stop. "That was too close..." Everyone present turned to face the figure. Lucius smiled, "Way to go, Ashton! Did you find the kid?" As if to answer him, Ashton opened his cloak, revealing the frightened Riolu child in his arms.
"Awwww. Such a cutie!" Zandria giggled as she caressed the Riolu child's head. The pup cooed, calmed by the Zangoose's kind touch. "We should return to Ironspike City promptly. This little one looks as if he hasn't eaten in days." Ashton spoke, letting the child rest under his cloak. Zandria smirked, "Leave that to me. I'll whip up a whole feast for the town." Ashton then smiled, "I wish to thank you all for your assistance today. Especially you, Lady.....hm?" The viscount glanced around, "Lady Shield?" The Lucario blacksmith was nowhere to be seen. Rukaria sighed, "That's just like her..." But Ashton then smiled, "I'm sure she is still nearby. She will always be watching over you, Rukaria." The blind Lucario maiden smiled slightly, knowing that his words were true.
The four companions headed west towards Ironspike City, eager to spread the word. They eventually came to the battlefield where the Bandit Lord had met her gruesome end. Dozens of mangled corpses littered the area. Ashton was careful to make certain that the Riolu child in his arms could not see it. Zandria asked, "Want me to use some of them in tonight's stew?" The viscount grumbled, "No. Let them rot here." Lucius nodded, "Same here. No telling what these guys were taking." The Zangoose sighed, "I guess I see your point. OK, I'll leave them."
The first area of Ironspike City the group passed through was the bustling modernized section to the east. It had the same lively atmosphere as Jubilife City, yet also felt somewhat laidback like Sandgem Town. Lucius chuckled, "Things are probably going to get jumpy once they learn the fate of those bandits." Rukaria giggled, "I can imagine. They had been tormenting the good people of this city for generations." Eventually, the companions arrived at the familiar village of huts and farmland at the western half of the city. Ashton glanced around, "Now then, where would we find Night Claw?" A familiar voice replied, "You don't have to look far." A familiar Lucario leapt from the roof of a nearby hut and landed before the viscount. "Welcome back, Lord Ashton. I take it your mission was a success?"
Standing before the four companions was the Ironspike Alpha female, Night Claw. Lucius answered, "You bet it was. We took no prisoners." Night Claw smiled, "I never doubted you for a minute. And their stronghold?" Ashton smirked, "No survivors. I buried them alive in their own home. Those bandits will never harm another soul ever again." The Alpha female then bowed, "You have our eternal gratitude, Lord Ashton. Now, please excuse me. I must spread the word." Night Claw then ran off, speaking of the news to everyone she saw. But before he could try to rendezvous with his friends and family, Rukaria stopped Ashton as she gripped his cloak. "Sir Ashton..." The viscount then glanced down at her, "Yes?" She then humbly bowed, "Thank you so much... You don't know what it means to me that you destroyed them..." Ashton smiled gently as he caressed her face, "Even if the Heavens fall, Justice must still be done. Never forget those words."
Once the four companions had parted ways for the afternoon, Ashton soon found himself once again mobbed by various members of the Ironspike clan. One youth asked, "Sir Ashton, is it true?! You slew the Bandit Lord and her underlings?!" The viscount chuckled, "Yes, though I had some help." But just then, Ashton felt something stirring in his arms under his cloak. "Oh, yes! I forgot!" He then faced the crowd of Lucario and asked, "Has anyone had a child abducted from them recently?!" He then pulled open his cloak and held the rescued Riolu pup out for all to see. Moments later, a young female pushed her way to the front of the crowd. She called out, "That's it! My baby!" As soon as the Riolu child saw his mother approaching, he held out his arms and called, "Mommy!" The child practically fell out of Ashton's arms and into the loving grasp of his mother. The Lucario tearfully smiled, "Bless you, Sir Ashton. Bless you!" The viscount warmly smiled and stroked the Riolu's head, "It was no trouble at all, my dear." But before he could step away, the Riolu grabbed Ashton's hand. His mother smiled, "I believe my child wishes to thank you." Ashton kneeled before them and grinned, "You have something to say, lad?" The Riolu licked Ashton on the nose, "Tha... Thank you." At a loss for words, Ashton blushed deeply while chuckling, the rest of the present Lucario and Riolu applauding.
That night, the city of Ironspike was bustling with activity as everyone celebrated the execution of the bandits that had haunted them for so long. Fireworks lit up the sky as music and dancing filled the streets. In the farmlands to the west, the Riolu and Lucario of the Ironspike clan too were celebrating. Zandria had prepared a massive feast of her finest cooking; making sure that there would be enough to go around. And once again, Ashton was the guest of honor. However, he was quick to point out that Zandria, Lucius, and Rukaria had provided vital aid, though he quietly whispered to himself that Shield had also assisted them. Due to Shield's classification as being deceased, he did not want to sow confusion among his new friends.
Near the museum at the outskirts of the farmland, Pearl took a moment to rest from the party. She casually sipped some punch that Zandria had brewed. Soon, a voice asked, "Taking a break?" The Lucario turned to face her guest and found Ash with a pair of kabobs in his hands. She smiled, "Just for a moment. I get tired a little more easily as I am right now." Pearl's spare hand caressed her rounded belly, as she was now halfway through her pregnancy. Ash grinned, "Me too. But I thought you'd be hungry. Want some of this?" He handed her one of the kabobs. The meat on it consisted of duck. The aroma made Pearl's mouth water. "You always know what I like!" She quickly snatched the kabob and started eating.
Ash sat next to his lover while they enjoyed their kabobs. "I was a little worried when I found out that Lucius went with Ashton. But they still came out OK." Pearl smiled, "Your ancestor is pretty amazing. He has to be in order to have this museum made in his honor...eh?" Pearl jumped as she felt Ash caressing her swollen belly. He whispered, "Sorry... You're just so beautiful right now." But Pearl blushed, "There's no need to apologize, my love." She then laid her hand atop his, "That's your baby growing in there. Touch it all you want." Ash blushed deeply as he kissed her, feeling prideful knowing that he and Pearl would become parents before long. He soon reached under her yellow vest and caressed her belly, letting nothing get between him and his unborn child.
Pearl held Ash in a tender embrace, "I love you, dear..." Ash kissed her and whispered, "I love you too, baby..." Pearl giggled, "You called me 'baby'... That was so cute." Ash chuckled, "I was just trying it out. Felt kinda silly, to be honest." But he then rubbed Pearl's belly again, "Ruby's getting really excited about becoming an aunt. I thought she would be jealous, but she's completely fine with this." Pearl giggled, "That's because she knows she's the one you're gonna marry someday. Right?" Ash nodded, "You bet. As soon as I can, I'm gonna propose to her. But..." He then whispered into Pearl's ear, "I'll always love you too, Pearl. I promise." The Lucario gently held her lover's hand, "I know... And I'll always love you too."
After a moment more together, Ash noticed something out of the ordinary. "Hey, Pearl. Have you been feeling all right?" The Lucario grinned, "Of course. Never better, actually. Why do you ask?" Ash frowned, "I don't feel much movement... I was expecting to feel a kick now and then." Pearl sighed, "I'm sure the little dear is just tired. The unborn usually don't have a lot of strength. Or maybe she's just sick. I'm sure it'll pass." Ash nodded, "Yeah. I'm probably just getting worked up over nothing." He then surprised Pearl by planting a kiss on the very center of her belly. She blushed, "You'll be such a wonderful father, honey."
Once they had finished their kabobs, Ash and Pearl rejoined their family and friends, eager to enjoy the rest of the party. But they were even more eager to see their child born into the world, an eternal testament to their love for each other.