The Blackflame Curse
"Are you certain that you do not wish to stay longer?" Night Claw asked her guests. Ash nodded, "It's been a great vacation here, but we really need to get going. I've only gotten one badge so far and it'll take us days to reach the next Gym in Eterna City." Two weeks had passed since Ash and his friends and family arrived in Rukaria's hometown of Ironspike City. Having been granted a two-week vacation as thanks for slaughtering a gang of bandits to the east, the group was rested and once again ready for the road.
Ashton bowed before the Ironspike Alpha female, "I am honored by your hospitality, Lady Night Claw. We shall meet again." The Lucario bowed as well, "You have our thanks, Angel of the Eternal Flame. We would still be at the mercy of those bandits if you had not arrived." Ruby also bowed, "We'll stop by again on our way back home." Ash and his companions waved goodbye at the Alpha female and headed northwest through the neighboring forest towards Oreburgh City. However, Ashton stayed behind for a moment longer. "Lady Night Claw. Please make certain that Seeker is kept safe before my return to claim it." Night Claw nodded, "Consider it done. One of our blacksmiths is already crafting a replica." The two allies shook hands just before Ashton ran off in pursuit of his companions.
Ash led his friends and families through the trees to the northwest of Ironspike City. But due to Pearl's advancing pregnancy, they slowed their pace to not tax her delicate body. Pearl grunted, "Come on, you don't have to slow down for me. I'm just..." But Ruby interrupted her, "We all know your body's still full of strength. All Fighting types have plenty of power. But take it easy, sis. Be mindful of the baby. I've been pregnant before, so I know what I'm talking about." Understanding her condition, Pearl sighed, "All right... But it'll take longer to travel at this rate..."
At their slower pace, the group only covered half as much ground in one day than they normally did. That evening, Zandria cooked up curry for dinner. "I made it mild, just in case any of you don't like spicy stuff." Lucius sighed as he received his bowl, "Thanks..... Although it feels like we're taking longer than we should at this rate." Lucy replied, "It can't be helped. Remember, we don't want Pearl's baby to be in danger. She needs to take it easy." The Shiny Lucario nodded, "I haven't forgotten. It's just that things are a bit...boring when we shuffle along so slowly."
During their meal, everyone chatted in casual conversation. Ruby giggled quietly, "So you two did it during our stay, huh?" Rukaria nodded, "Yup. I'm grateful you and your sister are so accepting of our love." Ruby smiled, "Think nothing of it. I wouldn't be surprised if we found our own clan someday with Ash as the Alpha." Nearby, Ashton chatted with his grandchildren. "So, did you enjoy your stay in Ironspike City?" Sapphire nodded, "Yeah! And that museum was so fascinating! I never knew you had such a famous life, Grandpa!" Ashton chuckled, "Fascinating? You've learned some big words." Lucash snickered, "Yeah, she did. I think Mom taught her something. Or maybe it was Aunt Chiara..." Chiara gulped down a mouthful of her curry, "Have you and Ashton decided on a name for your second child?" Zandria nodded, "It's the same name I thought up long ago. She'll be named Anabel." The Lugia scholar then asked, "And if it's a boy?" But the Zangoose smiled warmly as she caressed her belly, "It'll be a girl... I just know it will."
That night, Ash and Ruby slept quietly in their sleeping bag while Shadow stood watch near the campsite. Everyone else was already asleep. However, Pearl soon wedged herself into Ash's sleeping bag, causing the Trainer to awaken. "Huh...? Who's there?" Pearl whispered, "It's just me, hun." Ash managed to turn around and faced the Lucario. "Pearl? Don't you have your own sleeping bag?" She nodded with a blush, "Yes... But I want our baby to be near her father for the last few weeks before birth." She then pushed her swollen belly against him. Ash blushed, "Man... That's too cute. OK, you can sleep with me for the rest of the wait." Pearl responded with a quick kiss. But Ash soon reached down and rubbed her belly. "I was kinda hoping I'd be able to feel the baby kicking sometimes. Why hasn't it been kicking lately?" Pearl sighed, "Considering how late it is, she must be exhausted. Best to let her sleep." She then threw an arm around Ash and smiled, "Now we should do the same. Goodnight, love." Ash grinned back at her, "Good idea. Sleep tight, Pearl." The two lovers then fell asleep in a tender embrace.
The next morning, Ruby yawned as she awoke inside her sleeping bag with Ash. "Wait... Why is it so hard to move?" She found her movement restricted, as if the bag was full to near bursting. The Lucario wiggled a bit, trying to awaken her lover without running the risk of tearing the bag open. Soon, Ash let out a yawn. Noticing he was awake, Ruby asked, "Dear, why is there so little room to move in here?" Hearing his lover, Ash looked over his shoulder and replied, "Now that you mention it, I guess it is kinda tough to move with Pearl in here too." Ruby paused for a moment, but then frowned, "Pearl, get out. I can't move my arms."
Slipping her tail past Ash, Ruby slipped it up under Pearl's vest. She then began to tickle her by rapidly wiggling the tip of her tail against Pearl's swollen belly. "Wakey wakey, big sis." After a brief moment, Pearl began to giggle as she stirred. "Hey, what're you doing to her?" Ash asked, somewhat concerned for his own safety. Ruby giggled, "Just waking her up gently." A few seconds later, Pearl laughed, "Who's doing that?!" The Lucario awoke, finding herself face to face with the father of her unborn child. "Was that you, hun?" Ash snickered, "Nope. Ruby was getting annoyed being stuck in here and wanted to wake you up fast." Pearl then smirked, "In that case, we'd best get you out first. Keep your arms straight. Ruby?" The young mother nodded, "One... Two..." Simultaneously, the two sisters grabbed Ash at his sides and raised him, sliding the Trainer out of the sleeping bag. "Three!"
A short while later, everyone sat around the campfire as Zandria cooked up omelets. She made one for all of her guests, using different ingredients to suit each diner's personal tastes. Zandria soon asked, "Think I added enough ingredients to your omelet for balanced nutrition, Pearl?" The young mother-to-be smiled, "Yes, thank you. I'm sure the little dear is quite pleased too." Ash then asked, "How much longer until the day comes?" Pearl replied with a blush, "Just a few more weeks at most." She then tenderly caressed her belly, hoping to feel her child moving within her womb.
While everyone ate breakfast, Ash checked the map on his Pokétch. He soon gazed at it with a thoughtful expression. Sapphire soon noticed and looked over his shoulder. "Whatcha looking at, Daddy?" Her father replied, "I'm just wondering which way to go. We can head north from Oreburgh City to reach Eterna City, but there's also a place called Floaroma Town north of Jubilife City. I'm just trying to think of where to go first." At the mention of Floaroma Town, Chiara smiled, "Oh, I must recommend a visit to Floaroma Town. It's known for its vast flower fields. Miles of flowers as far as the eye can see." Lucy sighed, "Oh yes, I remember going there. So many colors and lovely fragrances." Pearl then asked, "If it's as good as you say, we really should go. I'd love to have my baby there, if we have time." Ash blushed, "Really? There?" Everyone else promptly showed interest as well. Chiara then added, "What is more, we can then take the route through Eterna Forest to reach Eterna City later, so we won't have to come back through Oreburgh City to reach it." Ash then grinned, "If it's that good, how can I say no? I guess this means Floaroma Town is our next stop in Sinnoh!"
The following day at around noon, everyone arrived once again in Oreburgh City. Wasting no time, they checked into a hotel for the evening before deciding to spend the remainder of the day resting from their travels. After placing all their belongings in their rooms, the group gathered in the lobby. Ash asked, "So, anything we can see here during our stay?" Lucy replied, "There's the Oreburgh Mining Museum. It's the only landmark I can think of besides the Oreburgh Gym." Shadow chuckled, "No need to go back there now that we have the badge from it." Ash nodded, "No kidding. Then let's check out this museum."
Lucy led the way to the main attraction in Oreburgh City. Upon entering, Ash's eyes quickly fell upon the massive block of coal in the center of the room. "That's.......huge. Never thought I'd see a hunk of coal this big. You'd think they would downsize it into lots of pieces instead." But Lucash laughed, "Dad, you DID see it before! Remember about two months ago when we came here for the first time?" Ash glanced at his son with a puzzled expression, but soon understood that his friends and family first visited Oreburgh City while he was still deceased. "Oh, right. Can't believe I forgot." He chuckled nervously, trying to reassure his children that nothing odd had occurred at that time.
While everyone else went about the museum, Lucius remained standing near the door, having noticed Ash's clearly nervous response to Lucash's remark. He turned to Ashton, who was the last to proceed inside. "Hey... Does Ash have amnesia?" The viscount replied, "You mean his lack of memories involving his first visit to this place?" The Shiny Lucario nodded silently. Ashton glanced around to make certain that Sapphire and Lucash were out of earshot. He then whispered, "There's a good reason why he does not recall being here before, despite the fact that he was present when we first arrived here a while ago." Lucius asked, "He wasn't drunk, was he?" The viscount brought a hand to his face and grumbled, "Lord, no..... He was dead."
Ashton's response to his question shocked Lucius. "You're...serious? Dead?" Ashton nodded as he explained quietly, "He was murdered by a rogue member of the Skydiamond clan who Lucy claimed to be called 'Outcast'. Ruby was traumatized to the point of falling into a coma, so I decided to seek out the phoenix, Ho-Oh, to revive him. In order to insure that his children would not discover his death, I manipulated Ash's corpse like a puppet with my Dead Soul Jutsu in order to present the illusion that he was merely ill. It took us around a month, but we finally located Ho-Oh and had her restore Ash to life. During our search for her, we visited this museum in the hopes that it might contain information regarding Ho-Oh's whereabouts. Of course, since Ash was physically present here, his children thought that he was observing the place." Lucius nodded, "Yeah..... No wonder he didn't remember..."
Everyone began to shuffle about the museum, taking in all the sights and information provided in the exhibits. But unbeknownst to her companions, Lucy was discreetly eyeing Shadow as he made his way into a corner to examine a glass display case containing old mining helmets. After glancing around to make certain no one could see them behind the display cases, Lucy quietly approached Shadow without making a sound.
"Hm... I wonder if they used candles on these things before electricity was discovered..." Shadow muttered to himself while examining the helmets before him. Suddenly, he felt a hand rest upon his shoulder. "It wouldn't surprise me if they did." Startled, Shadow turned to his right. "Eh?! Oh. Hey, Lucy." The Lucario maiden shyly smiled, "Hi..." She then asked, "May I join you?" Shadow shrugged his shoulders, "Sure. Don't mind me." The two Lucario began to silently browse the exhibit before them. But Lucy soon began to sweat as she became anxious. (Here goes... It's now or never...) She then asked, "Shadow, may I ask you something?" The Lucario warrior nodded, "Sure, what's up?" Lucy then whispered, "Have you ever...considered having a girlfriend?"
Lucy's question caught Shadow unprepared, as he seemed to freeze in disbelief. ".......wait..... Seriously?" Lucy nodded silently. Shadow then gazed at her with a baffled expression, "Why do you ask?" Lucy gulped as she blushed, "I... Um..... I've just seen how you are.....very strong... It somehow compliments me, who am practically powerless. You are also very kind and protective of those you hold dear..." She then gathered her courage, "I guess what I'm saying is..... I think you may be.....someone I can bond with... Maybe in the long run." The Lucario maiden then took his hand, "Do you...accept my feelings?"
Shadow stared at Lucy for a moment, shocked that she was genuinely attracted to him. But after a moment, he began to lightly chuckle. Lucy gave him a puzzled gaze, "What's so funny?" Shadow then caught himself and replied, "Sorry about that. It's just that.... How do I put this..... It'll never work." Not expecting to be rejected so promptly, Lucy asked, "But.....why? Is there something wrong with me?" Shadow shook his head, "No, there's nothing wrong with you. Sure, I like you. You're a very sweet girl. And you're quite attractive too. It's just that....." He then scratched his head nervously, "I'll say this the best I can. I quite simply do not have any interest whatsoever in romance. Don't ask me why. I just don't." Lucy could only stare at him, surprised that he had no intimate interest in her at all. Shadow then patted her on the shoulder, "Even so, I hope we can continue to be friends. See you around, Lucy." As Shadow walked away, Lucy sighed to herself, "At least he was honest..."
Seeing Ash over by display cases of fossils that had been dug up in coalmines, Shadow walked over to him. "Sheesh, you'll never guess what happened to me." Ash replied as he examined a Cranidos fossil, "Care to fill me in?" Shadow nodded, "Yeah... Lucy basically asked me to be her boyfriend." Hearing this, Ash felt an unpleasant sensation in his heart. "...really? She asked you that?" The Lucario nodded, "Yeah. But I turned her down. As I told you back in Lilycove City, I have no interest in that kind of bond. It never would've worked out in the end." Ash then sighed, "I see..." But Shadow soon noticed the change in his Trainer's mood. "Hey, what's wrong? Was it something I said?" The Trainer slowly turned away, "No... I'm fine." But just as he started to walk away, Ash glanced over his shoulder at Shadow. "If you ever have a change of heart, promise me you'll take good care of her." Ash then proceeded to exit the museum, leaving Shadow worried for his friend. "Ash... What happened? Was it something I said...? I never see you this glum..."
That night, Lucy lied awake in bed in her hotel room. Rukaria and Zandria were sleeping nearby, their light snoring being the only sound to break the silence of the night. As tired as she was, Lucy could not fall asleep. A terrible nagging feeling in her gut kept her awake. (Why do I feel so bad...?) As if to answer her, a familiar voice in the recesses of her mind spoke up. "Because you regret ..... What is that term.....? Oh yes. You regret cheating on the one who won your heart." The malice-laced voice of the Angel of Doom echoed in Lucy's mind, sounding mildly disturbed by her actions that day.
"Cheat...... That sounds so awful..." Lucy muttered to herself, also somewhat ashamed that she had fallen in love with Ash, yet having tried to choose Shadow over him. Doom spoke, "Indeed, it is a foul term. I am rather amazed that you developed feelings for that man, despite all that boy has done for you. What prompted this change?" Lucy sighed, "Because.....it didn't feel right, falling in love with someone who is not the same as me." Doom replied, "You mean someone who is not a Lucario?" The Lucario maiden merely nodded. A moment of silence passed, the Angel of Doom having not provided a response. Eventually, she spoke, "Are you truly this close-minded?"
Lucy remained silent at Doom's criticism, tears beginning to build in her eyes. The Angel of Doom asked, "Why? Why are you so fearful of males from other species?" Lucy whispered, "I'm not afraid..... It's just a natural preference of mine... Even though I am afraid of my own kind..." Doom muttered, "Yes, you were once beaten and raped by a male of your species. It's not surprising that you would develop a phobia for them." But Lucy added, "Only I know that the Lucario with me now are trustworthy. They would never harm me..." However, Doom grumbled, "But would they be willing to die for you the same way that boy did? I think not."
Having been reminded of Ash's heartfelt sacrifice for her while trying to keep her rapist away from her, Lucy finally allowed her tears to flow. Doom coldly explained, "Such petty preferences are mere obstacles that only get in the way of what people desire. They can lead to betrayals, and loss of trust. I wonder what that boy would do if he were to discover your actions today." Lucy silently brought a hand to her chest, tears flowing freely from her eyes. "Are you really so inflexible that you would cast aside the love of a boy who went so far as to DIE for you? If you are, then you are no better than the man who ended your virginity....."
Cold sweat began to trickle down Lucy's face as she heard the Angel of Doom's words. She could recall Outcast's inflexible and stubborn beliefs that led to her rape. Lucy began to lightly sob, disgusted with herself for her actions. "I'm sorry....." Doom spoke, "Pardon? What did you say?" Lucy whispered, "It was a mistake... A moment of weakness.... I won't do it again..... I don't want to lose him again...." The Lucario maiden shuddered, "I love him..... He proved himself..... He accepts me for what I am... And holds me precious to his heart... I can't forget what he's done for my sake..." Satisfied, the Angel of Doom whispered, "Then learn from your mistakes and remain faithful to him. Someone who loves you this dearly should be acknowledged and cherished. Do not let your feeble preferences cloud your judgment. After all, your sisters and their children are the undeniable proof of such bonds being possible." Lucy replied as sleep began to take hold of her, "I will...." As the young maiden fell asleep, the Angel of Doom smirked in silent victory over her persuasive 'advice'.
The following morning, everyone gathered at the eastern entrance to the Oreburgh Gate. "Should I lead the way again?" Ashton asked, his hand on the hilt of his sword. Shadow nodded, "Probably. Wouldn't want Ruby running off in the dark again.... Ow!" The Lucario rubbed his head after Ruby smacked him. "For the last time, I wasn't in my right mind back then!" Ash laughed as he patted her shoulder, "I'll stay close by so you won't have to worry." Ashton then drew his sword as he entered the tunnel, the blade becoming shrouded in flames. "Stay close." His companions promptly followed after him.
In order to create a little more light to illuminate their path, Ash released Ember from her Poké Ball. The flame on the Chimchar's backside cast additional light around them. "Huh? Did you need me, Ash?" She asked, curious of where they were. Her Trainer replied, "I just want to chat with you while we walk. That OK with you?" Ember smiled, "Of course! Can I stay with Lucash?" The Lucario child picked her up and carried the Chimchar on his shoulders, "Yeah! I haven't talked to you much, Ember! What have you been up to?" Ash chuckled, realizing that his son and friend did not wait for his input.
While Ember and Lucash chatted with each other, Ashton led his companions through the Oreburgh Gate. During the trek, Rukaria swayed over to Ash and held his arm with her spare hand. "Hm? Rukaria?" Ash asked as he glanced down at the blind Lucario. She smiled, "Is something wrong.......dear?" The Trainer remained silent for a moment before blushing, "Can't believe you just said that..." Rukaria giggled, "Me neither. But we are lovers now. Right?" Ash responded by throwing his arm around her shoulder and grinning, "Yup. That's not a problem, is it?" The blind Lucario embraced him with her spare arm, "Not in the least, dear..." As they watched the two lovers walk hand-in-hand, Pearl and Ruby giggled to each other while quietly chatting about their new 'sister'.
About halfway through the tunnel, Rukaria separated from Ash to chat with Ashton. Noticing that he was now alone, Lucy slightly quickened her pace until she was walking beside him. She reached out to him and gripped his hand gently. "Is there anything you want to do when we return to Jubilife City?" However, Lucy noticed that Ash tensed up when he heard her voice. Rather than look down at her, he turned his face in the opposite direction. He muttered, "I dunno... I guess just take it easy and relax for the rest of the day." Noticing the lack of enthusiasm in his tone, Lucy asked, "Is something wrong? Are you sure there's nothing you want to do? Could we have dinner together that evening?" The Trainer's only response was a sigh as he gently pulled away from Lucy and stepped away from her. Worried, she sighed, "Um.... All right. I'll just...um...let you have some time to yourself....." The Lucario maiden then frowned to herself, (Did Shadow tell him? And if he did, does this mean that Ash......does indeed love me and was hurt by my actions?)
Three days passed before Ash and his companions reached Jubilife City. Wasting no time, they promptly checked into the closest hotel for the evening. Later that evening, Lucy looked herself over in the mirror of her hotel room's bathroom. She was clad in her light blue dress. "Looks OK. I don't think I'm forgetting anything." She then left the room and took a seat on her bed. Lucy then glanced at a clock hanging on the wall. "Almost time..." The young maiden then set her hands on her lap and waited. 6 pm came, but no one knocked on the door. Lucy's drooping right ear perked up slightly, "He's late? He always came at 6 pm... I'll give him a little longer."
Lucy sat still, watching the hands on the clock. The second hand rotated the face of the clock ten times, but there was still no sound of someone knocking at the door. ".....Ash. We always go out to dinner with each other at 6 pm on the first night we enter a town or city. Why aren't you here yet?" Lucy stood up and left her hotel room. She then proceeded down the hall to the room that Ash was sharing with Ruby. Just before reaching it, Lucy stopped as Ruby stepped outside. Upon seeing her 'sister', Ruby grinned, "Dressed up for something special, huh? You always look stunning in that dress." Lucy giggled, "Thanks... Ash even made sure to pick my favorite color too. Speaking of which, is he inside?" She pointed towards the door to the hotel room. Ruby nodded, "Yeah, he's in there. If you want to see him, I'll get the door for you." The young mother then unlocked the door and nudged it open a crack. Lucy silently thanked Ruby before stepping inside.
Having not been expecting a guest, Ash froze as he glanced over at Lucy. In his hand was the phone used to contact the hotel staff. The two friends shared a long nervous gaze before Lucy asked, "Um... What are you doing?" Ash replied, "I was about to order room service." Lucy then asked, "For what? More soap for the shower? Or some toothpaste?" The Trainer shook his head, "I was going to order dinner for us. Anything you want?" Lucy brought a hand to her chest, "But..... I thought we were supposed to go out for dinner together. Like we always do during our first evening while visiting a city." But Ash sighed, "I think you've got the wrong guy. Shadow's staying in the room next door. He's your real crush, right?"
Lucy felt a twinge of guilt as she heard Ash mention Shadow's name. "He told you....." Ash's only response was a silent nod. But as he began to dial the extension for the receptionist's desk, Lucy reached out and set her hand down on the hook, canceling the call. Ash grumbled, "Knock it off. I'm getting hungry. And you wouldn't like it when I'm hungry and can't get any food." Lucy touched his hand, "Then let's go get some. Just the two of us." But the Trainer sighed, "And why aren't you asking Shadow?" Lucy could only stare into the eyes of her friend, tears beginning to form at her eyelids. "Because.... Because....." The maiden quickly threw her arms around Ash in a warm embrace. "Because you're the one I wish to dine with... Just you..."
Ash was stunned as Lucy hugged him, unable to understand why she would want to dine with just him and not the Lucario she had come to develop feelings for. "I don't get it... Why?" Lucy whispered, "I will admit this..... I was being selfish and close-minded when I confessed to Shadow..... I'm sorry..." She then pleaded, "Forgive me... Please believe me. I want to be with you tonight..." After a moment of silence, Ash asked, "Are you being completely serious?" Lucy nodded, "Dead serious..." The Trainer then asked, "Any suggestions on where we should grab a bite?" Surprised, Lucy released her grip on him and asked, "Wait... What?" Ash smiled, "I was asking if there was a restaurant you had in mind." Realizing that Ash had forgiven her, Lucy quickly dried her tears. "Yes... How about the same restaurant as last time?" The Trainer stood up as he set the phone down, "Sounds great to me. Give me a few minutes and I'll meet you in the lobby." He then flashed Lucy a toothy grin just before stepping into the bathroom. Relieved, Lucy left the hotel room and proceeded down the stairs to the lobby to wait for her friend.
After no more than six minutes, Lucy's ears perked up as she heard the elevator coming down. When the doors parted, Ash stepped out, wearing the same clothes as on their first date. Lucy smiled, "You always look stunning in that outfit." Ash then grinned, "And you look awesome as always. But if there's one thing I have to say....." He then tilted his fedora hat down over his eyes slightly while suddenly doing a type of tiptoe pose, "Billie Jean is not my lover." However, Lucy merely stared at him, puzzled by this random statement. "Billie Jean...? Who?" Seeing that Lucy did not get the joke, Ash sighed, "Er... Never mind. Anyway, you remember the way to the restaurant?" The Lucario maiden nodded, "Certainly. Follow me."
A short while later, Ash and Lucy sat across from each other as their appetizers were served. Ash had ordered a deluxe salad while Lucy had decided on the calamari, which was served with garlic butter dipping sauce. While they waited for their entrées, Ash decided to discuss Lucy's attraction to Shadow. "Hey... May I ask you a personal question?" Half-knowing what was coming, Lucy nodded, "Sure..." The Trainer then asked, "Um... What made you develop feelings for Shadow? I don't hold anything against you for it, but... I'm just curious." With a sigh, Lucy explained, "More than anything....it was due to my personal preference for same-species relationships. Even if I am somewhat apprehensive about my own kind..."
Having never expected Lucy to be afraid of her own species, Ash asked, "Wait a second..... You're scared of other Lucario?" When Lucy nodded, Ash paused for a moment. He then asked, ".....why?" The young maiden muttered, "Outcast...." Ash gulped, knowing that speaking out loud in a public area about when Lucy had been raped was a very bad idea. He instead whispered, "So you became wary of anything that looked like him?" Lucy nodded, "Exactly." The two friends silently went back to enjoying their meal for another moment before Ash whispered, "Then...why are you here with me?"
Lucy froze as she heard her date ask her a question she did not expect. Ash then asked, "If you prefer your own kind, why did you choose me to go out with you?" Lucy began to sweat, trying desperately to find the right words. "I..... I came to the realization that I was just being stubborn. That my inflexible preferences were just getting in the way. And I am constantly reminded every day by your bond with Ruby that interspecies-relationships are possible." Ash remained silent as he looked at Lucy. Gathering his courage, the Trainer asked, "Lucy..... Do you....love me?"
The other customers in the restaurant ate and chatted, completely oblivious to the discussion that was taking place between Ash and Lucy. In the recesses of her mind, Lucy heard the Angel of Doom speak to her. (Be true to yourself. Tell him your heart's desires.) Trembling slightly, Lucy replied, (I... I want to... I love him... And I want him to know. But...it's too soon... The proper time hasn't arrived yet.) Finally, Lucy turned to face the boy she loved, rest a hand upon his. "Ash... I won't lie. You are...very precious to me. You... You just might even be the best thing to happen to me since Kazeerah. But I..... I'm not sure if I love you like that..." She then sighed, "But that doesn't mean it's not possible. Maybe in time...I may someday love you like a potential mate. But for now.....you are a most precious friend to me." Ash replied with a sincere smile, but Lucy then asked, "But...what about you? Do you love me like that?"
Ash gulped, clearly unprepared for Lucy's question. His eyes began to wander nervously as he tried to find the right way to explain himself. But Lucy was quick to notice his expression, as she had seen it multiple times in her own reflection. (That gaze..... It's like he wants to tell me something, but can't bring himself to...) Finally, Ash sighed, "I'll be honest with you, Lucy. My answer is the same as yours. While I don't love you quite like that, you're still very precious to me." He then held her hand, "I never want to lose you... You're my friend." However, Lucy could clearly see the hesitation in his eyes. (Just like me... He.... My god..... He actually.....) Hiding her emotions, Lucy nodded, "I hope our bond remains strong..."
A while later, Lucy bathed in the shower of the bathroom within her hotel room, full from the entrée of lobster raviolis served with peas and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce. As she slowly bathed, the Angel of Doom spoke to her. "You seem unusually relaxed tonight. Did you notice the look in that boy's eyes as well?" Lucy sighed, "I did..... If that expression was what I truly think it was.....then he has the same feelings I do..." Doom chuckled, "You see? All he has done for you has been out of love. And like you, he seems to love you deeply while being too hesitant to openly admit it." Lucy brought a hand to her chest, parallel to her heart. She smiled gently, the warm water soaking her fur. "I... I don't think I've ever felt this hopeful before..."
Lucy continued to bathe as the Angel of Doom spoke to her. "He will likely open up about his true feelings if you confess. Go tell him once you finish here." But Lucy sighed, "I know... I want to...but it just doesn't feel like the right time to do it..." Doom whispered, "But if you do, you will finally be steps away from obtaining what you desire most..." Lucy's eyes closed as she gently smiled, "A family..." Doom spoke, "You remember the time in the settlement of Oreburgh. The bouquet of flowers you caught at the wedding. Think about it. If he truly does love you, then he is surely the one you are destined to bond with." A faint blush on her face, Lucy smiled, "...I can hardly wait..... It's still too soon to tell him, but..... Someday..." She then focused on washing herself, "Yes... Someday... Someday soon....." But Doom silently smirked to herself without Lucy's knowledge. (Yes. The sooner, the better.)
Two days later, everyone gathered around a small campfire in a tiny clearing with a forest somewhere between Jubilife City and Floaroma Town. Zandria began to set out various meats and vegetables onto spits as she roasted them over the flames. Sapphire turned to Lucy and asked, "Auntie Lucy, how much further until we get to Floaroma Town?" The Lucario maiden thought the distance over in her head for a moment before replying, "I'm not entirely sure, but judging at the rate we're moving, I'd have to estimate that it'll take us a week to get there." Before the Lucario child could complain, Ruby spoke up, "It can't be helped, dear. Your aunt needs to take it easy for the sake of her baby." However, as the group chatted amongst themselves, Ashton slipped away through the forest to take a walk as a means to pass the time while waiting for their meal to be cooked. To help mask his departure, he left the Flamberge behind as he seldom went anywhere without it.
After a short walk, Ashton emerged from the trees as he happened upon a large clearing in the trees that was similar to a small meadow. Near the center of the field of green grass was a large stone that could easily suffice as a natural bench. Breathing deeply of the fresh forest air, the viscount approached the stone formation and reclined upon it. He rested his arms behind his head, watching the clouds float by overhead. In mere minutes, his eyes began to close as he steadily drifted off to sleep, unawares of a pair of bright red eyes watching from the cover of the trees to the north.
Just before Ashton could lapse into a complete dream state, the voice of Soul Calibur echoed in his mind. "Young master, a presence draws near from the north." Ashton groggily yawned and rubbed his eyes, not quite awake yet. ".....young master....." The viscount mumbled, "Someone's coming...? Is it....threat?" The spirit sword replied, "No. It is most pure. Exceedingly so." Ashton sat up and glanced around as he tried to see the intruder approaching. But as he gazed north, his eyes squinted to see a figure emerging from the forest. "My god... Surely this is a dream. Is she.....an angel?"
Slowly approaching Ashton from the north was what seemed to be a Suicune. However, instead of a hexagonal crystal atop her forehead, there was a diamond-shaped crystal. What was more shocking was that unlike ordinary Suicune, she stood on two legs with a lovely humanlike body. Her body was slender and feminine, much like a supermodel. Hanging from her waist was a green loincloth that reached past her knees. An equally green brassiere consisting of a single strip of cloth was wrapped around her upper chest, keeping her shapely breasts contained and out of sight. In the Suicune's long purple mane just behind the left side of her head was a tiny blue crystal hairpin. As she neared Ashton while a northern wind blew, causing her gorgeous mane and twin paper-thin tails to flutter in the breeze, the humanoid Suicune flashed the viscount a beautiful smile. "What's wrong? Never seen a lovely girl wandering a forest before?"
Ashton stared for a moment, believing that he was witnessing a mirage. "I...must have been out in the sun for too long... Surely I must be seeing things..." Before the viscount could try to go back to sleep, the Suicune giggled, "Seeing things? That's a new one!" Hearing this, Ashton sat up, "Wait... So you ARE real? And others have seen you?" The Suicune giggled, "Yeah. But you're the first one to think I wasn't real instead of trying to hit on me." Shocked to see that the Suicune woman before him was not a mirage, Ashton gazed at her in bewilderment, "Is such beauty even possible in this world...? Miss... May I ask you your name?" Clearly surprised by Ashton's reserved and polite demeanor, the Suicune smiled, "Wow... I've never met someone as polite as you. Most guys just start asking me out right on the spot. And I shall tell you my name." She grinned cutely at the viscount as a sudden breeze blew through her hair, making it waver. "My name is Aura, guardian of the north wind."
At the mention of the Suicune's name, Ashton's eyes carefully scanned her. (One of my daughters is named Aura. And she is a Suicune too. But this form...) He then asked, "Aura, was it? Where are you from? Where is your family?" The Suicune grinned, "Actually, I don't have one. I was simply born from the northern winds. Why do you ask?" Ashton gazed at her with an odd expression before answering, "Oh... You just bring someone I know to mind. I thought you were her, but I see it's just a coincidence. My mistake." He then stood up and held out his hand, "I believe it is my turn now. I am Ashton of Green Mile." Aura asked, "Green Mile..... That sounds familiar somehow..... A city in Kanto?" The viscount grinned, "Ah! I see you are familiar with cities of years past. Yes, Green Mile was a city in the Kanto region. Only nowadays it is known as Pallet Town." Aura smiled, "Then shouldn't I call you Ashton of Pallet Town instead?" Ashton chuckled, "Ashton by itself will do just fine, thank you."
Aura and Ashton took a seat upon the rock formation in the middle of the clearing as they chatted with each other. "So, Miss Aura. Are you involved with anyone?" Ashton asked, trying to avoid sounding awkward. The Suicune maiden giggled, "If that's your way of asking me if I'm spoken for, then yes. I already have a man in my life." But instead of hearing a grumble of disappoint, Aura heard Ashton breathe a sigh of relief. "Huh? You're not bothered by it?" The viscount chuckled, "Not in the least. In fact, I'm relieved you're taken. I already happen to be happily married." He then raised his hand, examining the golden wedding ring on his finger. Aura lightly gasped, "Oh, I see. Well, I'm glad for you! It's always nice to see a guy who found himself his true match. Tell your sweetheart I said hi." But Ashton soon frowned with a sorrowful expression, "Correction. I was happily married..... Until my wife died some time ago..."
Upon hearing Ashton's words, Aura sighed, "Oh dear..... I'm sorry. I didn't know..." But Ashton shook his head, "No... It's quite all right. Her memory still lives on in my heart. And I know I will see her again someday. It is inevitable..." Aura remained silent for a moment before asking, "Do you plan on remarrying someday?" After a moment of silence, Ashton sighed, "No... Never again. I will not dishonor my wife's memory." But Aura shook her head, "Don't be that way. I'm sure she wouldn't want you to wallow in despair for the rest of your life. You're a really sweet guy, so I know you'll find a new sweetheart someday." The viscount replied, "I suppose, but..." However, Aura grinned, "I'm serious. If a girl starts to fall for you, don't deny her. Especially if you come to love her too." Ashton seemed to be in a minor trance state as he took in the Suicune's words. "Ashton? You OK?" The viscount replied as a tear trickled down his face, "Do not deny it to anyone... Especially when they seek it from you alone..." He then gave Aura a grateful smile, "Thank you for reminding me of my own advice..." The Suicune giggled, "No problem at all, dear."
After chatting a moment more, an idea came to Aura's mind. "Ashton, you were happily married, right?" Ashton smiled warmly, "Indeed. We were married for quite some time. Up until she died in my arms." The mention of his wife's death once again drew a solemn frown from Aura. "I'm sorry to hear that..." But the viscount patted her on the shoulder, "No, there's nothing to be sorry about. And judging by your question, you were going to ask me something?" The Suicune nodded, "I sure do. You see, I was hoping you could give me some dating advice." Ashton asked, "You mean.....courting advice? But I thought you just said you already have a lover!" Aura sighed, "I guess I wasn't descriptive enough. While I have someone in my life I love, he...has no interest in romance whatsoever and has been trying to evade me for quite a while. I was hoping you could give me some advice on how to woo him."
Aura's explanation boggled Ashton's mind. "This simply doesn't add up. What man in his right mind wouldn't feel even the slightest amount of attraction towards someone as beautiful and tender as you?! He must be out of his head to be immune to your charms!" The viscount's reaction prompted a laugh from the Suicune maiden. "I know! I often wonder how he has resisted me for so long! I even tried to seduce him by stripping in front of him once, but he still just ran off! Although he did get a nasty nosebleed from it..." Ashton winced, "Um..... I did not need to know that much... But in any case, can you tell me more about your suitor?" Aura nodded, "Gladly. His name is Rone. He happens to be a Lucario from this region. He's calm, but from what I can see, he has a strong preference for solitude instead of companionship. I even suspect he finds my presence annoying."
As he listened to Aura's explanation, Ashton thought long and hard about how someone like Rone would feel. "Hmmm..... You say he enjoys solitude? Or is it something along the lines of personal freedom?" Aura gasped, "Actually, that's exactly what he calls it! Endless freedom." The viscount then spoke, "I suspect that he enjoys being able to wander where he wishes whenever he desires. If he really is as aloof as I suspect, then perhaps your best bet would be to sit down with him and discuss the situation with him. Do you like to wander as well?" The Suicune nodded, "Very much. I like to travel too, though it's usually while chasing Rone." The viscount smiled, "Then you two have something in common. Next time you encounter him, approach him calmly without trying to seduce him in any way. Ask what it is that he finds unappealing about you and see if you can resolve the issue with him. Since you like to travel, perhaps you can convince him to allow you to accompany him without restricting his wandering." Aura then grinned widely, "I'll take that advice to heart!"
A short while later, Aura stood up and stretched. "I'm really glad I had this chat with you, Ashton. But I really should be going soon. I run the risk of losing Rone's trail if I stay in one place for too long." Ashton climbed to his feet as well, "I too should rejoin my companions. Lunch is likely on the verge of being finished by now." But at that moment, Aura turned and caught the viscount in a tender embrace before placing a sweet little kiss on his cheek. "Aura...?" Ashton was frozen in place by the unexpected display of affection. The Suicune sighed, "I'm grateful for your advice, Ashton. You're a real gentleman." The viscount smiled and embraced Aura, sharing a quiet moment with the lovely maiden. But once they released each other, Ashton asked, "Aura, may I ask a favor of you?" The Suicune giggled, "If it's for me to show you my body in exchange for your sound advice, I can't do that. Only Rone has that privilege." At this, Ashton blushed furiously, "What kind of gentleman in his right mind would ask such a ridiculous request from a maiden so fair?!" Aura laughed loudly at Ashton's outburst, "All right, sorry! I was just teasing you! But truly, I was expecting you to ask me that since most guys do. Sorry for misjudging you. Now, you had a request for me?" The viscount nodded, "I do. Should you and Rone ever become an item... May I attend the wedding?" Aura's face displayed an expression of shock, but soon smiled warmly, "If we ever do become engaged.....you will be the guest of honor." The viscount bowed gracefully, "You have my sincere thanks, Aura. Send word to Pallet Town should you find true love with your betrothed." The Suicune maiden nodded, "I'll make a mental note of that place."
As Ashton straightened his stance, Aura smiled, "Hold on. For being such a sweet guy, I believe you've earned something special. Close your eyes, dear." Curious, Ashton did what he was told without a second thought. But a second later, he shuddered in surprise as he felt someone kiss him. His eyes popped open to see the lovely Suicune maiden kissing him on the lips. However, the kiss was short as she soon pulled away and flashed the viscount a sincere smile. "I hope we meet again someday, Ashton. Take care." Aura turned and began to head towards the northern edge of the clearing. But just before she could disappear into the forest, Ashton called out to her. "Aura!" The Suicune promptly turned to face him, curious of what he still had to say. But after a moment of silence, Ashton slowly waved towards her, "T...take care..." Aura nodded with a smile, "You too." The Suicune maiden then disappeared into the forest; eager to resume her pursuit of the Lucario she loved. As he retrieved Soul Calibur, Ashton muttered to himself, "Have I heard her voice somewhere before?"
Before long, Ashton returned to the campsite where his friends and family were sitting down for lunch. Zandria grinned, "Just in time, Ashton!" The viscount muttered, "Indeed..." As he took a seat, Lucius noticed the dreamy expression on his face. "Did you see something during your walk out there?" Ashton sighed, "I met a maiden most beautiful and we had a good long chat together. I honestly can't understand why the man she's chasing has no interest in someone so lovely." But a moment later, Aurora noticed an unusual scent on her lover. (Wait... Is this...?) She walked towards the viscount and sniffed him quietly. Before long, she discovered a long strand of purple hair on Ashton's cloak. "This hue... And this scent... But it can't be her..." Ashton quickly noticed his Suicune lover standing near him and asked, "Is something troubling you?" She replied, "Ashton, who did you see out there?" The viscount chuckled, "A lovely Suicune lass, believe it or not. Why?" Upon confirming the identity of the maiden's species, Aurora gasped, "My god... It was her! Aura!" Ashton nodded, "I know. That's her name. She told me herself." But the Shiny Suicune shouted, "Not like that! It was Aura! Our daughter!"
A moment passed before Aurora's revelation registered with Ashton's brain. "Wait..... WHAT?! ARE YOU CERTAIN?!" Aurora replied, "I recognize her scent on you! I could never forget the scent of my own daughter! How could you not recognize her?!" The viscount groaned, "She looked nothing like I remembered her! She was... I mean.... Bah, I can't explain! Just watch!" He then brought his hands together to make a hand sign, causing him to be engulfed in a puff of white smoke. Chiara nodded, "Clever. The Transformation Jutsu is an effective means of showing us her form." A moment later, the smoke dissipated. A beautiful feminine voice asked, "You see now? Did you really expect me to recognize her in this state?"
All eyes settled upon Ashton as he stood in the center of the campsite, his form temporarily altered to look like his daughter in her beautiful humanoid form. Lucius blushed, "Good lord, she's like a goddess!" Ash snickered, "No kidding. Brock would go crazy if he was here to see this." In a puff of white smoke, Ashton cancelled the jutsu and reverted to normal. "Now do you understand? When she left home, she had no means to take on such a form." Aurora nodded, "I see... I too would never have recognized her on sight alone." But Ashton then gasped, "Blast... Aura!" In a flash, he was gone, dashing through the trees towards the clearing where he had encountered his daughter.
Upon entering the clearing where he and Aura met, Ashton called out at the top of his lungs, "Aura! Are you anywhere near here?! Aura!!!" A minute passed with no sign of the Suicune maiden, Ashton dropping to his knees. "How could I not recognize you... Your voice... I knew I had heard it before...." A voice spoke from behind him, "Do not blame yourself, dear. There was almost no way you could have known she was the same Aura we conceived so long ago." Aurora walked up beside her lover and lied down next to him. "Tell me. Did she appear to be well?" Ashton solemnly nodded, "From what I found out, she is healthy, exceedingly beautiful, and has even found a potential lover. But....." He then sighed, "She did not recognize me at all. Even my name was unfamiliar to her. She even claimed that she was born 'from the northern winds'." Aurora frowned, "My word... What could possibly have caused her to forget even her very origins?"
As the two lovers leaned against each other, Ashton sighed, "I often wondered what became of her. After nearly 600 years, I finally found her. And I did not even recognize her..." Aurora then asked, "Do you think we will ever cross paths with her again?" Aura's words echoed in Ashton's head. He smiled softly, "Yes. Once she and her lover decide on a date, I will be invited to their wedding. And she knows where to contact me." Aurora then nuzzled him, "Then we have nothing to do but to wait for the day to arrive. Do not fear. We will see her again." Ashton's eyes gazed skyward, a familiar northern breeze blowing through the air. "Aura... My beautiful child... At least I finally know that you are alive and well."
The next morning, Lucius was one of the first to awaken as Zandria prepared breakfast. But as he opened his eyes, he noticed his sword lying on the ground in front of his face. "Hm...? Don't remember leaving that here last night." But as he sat up in his sleeping bag, Lucius quickly noticed that the sword was not resting in its scabbard. "Where'd I leave that..... What the...?" As he glanced around, he saw his sword leaning against a nearby tree while sheathed in its scabbard. Puzzled, the Shiny Lucario glanced down at the sword on the ground. He felt his blood chill as he realized that the blade of the sword was pitch black. He growled, "For the love of....... WHY WON'T IT JUST LEAVE ME ALONE?!"
Lucius' shouting awoke everyone else at the campsite. Soon, they gazed down at the dreaded Sword of Shadows, knowing better than to lay their hands on it. Ashton asked, "Why is this here? Did someone bring it back to you?" But Lucius grumbled, "This isn't the first time. No matter what I've done to rid myself of this thing, it somehow keeps coming back to me." Chiara spoke up, "How can that be possible? Soul Calibur herself destroyed it in such a manner that it couldn't possibly still exist!" Lucius muttered quietly to himself, "But it still took longer than usual to come back this time..."
After a brief moment of discussion, Ashton ordered his companions to stand back and to move their gear away from the Sword of Shadows. He proceeded to make a few hand signs, a puddle of viscous black mud forming under the sword. "It shouldn't be able to go anywhere if buried in the ground." The black sword slowly sank out of sight. Once it could no longer be seen, Ashton parted his hands to cancel the jutsu as the puddle of mud became stable brown earth once more. He then turned to Lucius and asked, "How is it that the sword returned to you, despite being purified and shattered?" The Shiny Lucario shrugged his shoulders, "Your guess is as good as mine. I kinda got used to it after a while, but I was really hoping it was gone for good this time." Ashton sighed, "Then I'll just have to bury it next time it shows up. Just a minor nuisance, Lucius. Don't worry about it."
Later that day, the group began to notice a sweet fragrance in the air. "Mmmmmm... Something smells pretty!" Sapphire said as she inhaled deeply. Lucy smiled, "That's a sure sign we're getting close to Floaroma Town. The many flower fields provide quite an aroma for miles around." Minutes later, they emerged from the forest and found a vast field of flowers spread out before them with only the road separating them in two down the middle. Ashton smiled, "It's like a scene out of a story book..." But Chiara then pointed, "Do not let the scenery distract you. Floaroma Town is just over the horizon." In the distance, the vague silhouette of a city could be made out. Almost reluctant to move on, the group continued on slowly while taking in the sights and scents around them.
That evening, everyone checked into the closest hotel before heading off into the city to see what the place had to offer. But during that time, Ash stayed with Pearl in their hotel room while resting from their journey. Ash tenderly rubbed Pearl's belly, now bloated to full term. "How much longer?" He asked with a calm smile. Pearl touched his hand, "Any day now." The two lovers then held each other in a warm embrace, knowing that their child would soon be born into the world.
Three days passed as Ash and his companions enjoyed their stay in Floaroma Town as they awaited the birth of Pearl's baby. Outside the Pokémon Center, Ash and Pearl watched the sun setting over the horizon. The Lucario shuddered as a contraction shook her body. "Getting really close..." Ash tenderly patted her belly, "I'll go round up the others. You just let Nurse Joy take care of you. I'll be back soon." The Trainer planted a quick kiss on her cheek before running off in search for his friends and family. Pearl giggled as she made her way into the Pokémon Center where Nurse Joy was waiting for her.
Upon informing all of his companions of Pearl's condition, Ash ran into the Pokémon Center and into the room where his lover was. Pearl had her legs spread while resting on a bed as Nurse Joy stood at the foot of the bed to catch the baby as soon as it emerged. Ash kneeled next to his lover and held her hand. Pearl grunted, "Are they all here...?" Ash nodded with a warm smile, "Yeah. They're waiting in the lobby. Next time they see us, there will be three of us coming through those doors." The Lucario giggled, "Very true, hun.... Oof!" Pearl shuddered as she pushed, showing impressive focus as she delivered her child.
Nurse Joy watched carefully as Pearl pushed, the Lucario's birth fluids soaking her thick blue fur around her crotch. Soon, a soaked furry scalp began to emerge from Pearl's womanhood. "The baby is crowning. Just a little more..." Pearl squeezed Ash's hand tightly; tears of joy streaming down her face. "Soon... Very soon..... I'll finally have a baby of my own..." Ash responded by closing his other hand around hers, "It's an awesome feeling, isn't it?" She blushed, "It is... And it's all thanks to you, dear." Minutes later, Pearl breathed a sigh of relief as her child left her body. As the maiden-turned-mother panted in exhaustion, Ash whispered, "You did great, Pearl... You did great."
Pearl lied in her bed, her eyes seeing stars. "Is this what it's like to feel a tiny life emerge from your own body...?" She then spoke, "Please... Let me see my baby..." However, when Nurse Joy stood up, Ash and Pearl saw a most worried expression on her face. "Is something wrong?" Ash asked, somewhat concerned by the lack of movement from the tiny Riolu pup in the nurse's hands. Nurse Joy muttered, "Something's wrong... I've never had a case like this in my entire career. Why is she so..." Pearl gasped, "She? It's a girl?! I had a hunch she would be!" But Ash gulped, "That's not really important now... What's wrong with her, Nurse Joy? Is she OK?" The nurse approached Ash and set the set Riolu in his hands, her expression one of deep regret. "I'm sorry..." Upon holding his newborn daughter for a moment, Ash's eyes went wide with shock. Pearl noticed her lover's expression and asked, "What's wrong...? Is she sick?" He slowly turned to face the young mother, tears starting to trickle down his face. "Pearl... I'm sorry... I don't understand why this happened, but....." The Trainer then set his child into her mother's arms, "She..... She's dead..."
A deathly silence filled the room as Pearl heard the words she had never once expected to hear about her first child. She slowly turned her gaze towards her daughter, the tiny Riolu pup resting motionless in her arms. "A miscarriage..... That's impossible..." She tenderly stroked the child's face, "Come now, dear. There's no need to be so silent. I'm sure you're tired, but there will be plenty of time to sleep in..." Pearl froze as she felt Ash rest his hand on her shoulder. "Pearl... I don't want to admit it anymore than you do, but..." As she gazed into his sorrowful eyes, Ash muttered, "She's gone... We can't change that..." The young mother gazed down at her child, her mind starting to accept the tragic truth. She muttered, "Why..... Have I not atoned enough...?" Nurse Joy quietly left the room as quiet sobs filled the air. Soon, Ash turned away in tears as Pearl's weeping exploded into remorseful wailing.
Out in the lobby, Rukaria shuddered as she faintly heard loud crying coming from somewhere beyond the doors within the Pokémon Center. "Has something happened?" As if to answer her question, Ash walked through the doors and stood before his friends and family. Zandria gasped as she saw tears falling from her ancestral son's face. "What happened in there? Is Pearl all right?" The Trainer wiped some of his tears away, "Pearl's fine..... But the baby... She..." Ruby ran up to her lover and pleaded, "What about my niece?! What's wrong?!" After a moment of mental debating, Ash spoke, "It was a miscarriage..." Believing that she had been told a sick joke, Ruby demanded, "That's not funny! Don't lie to me about this!" But she froze as Ash sobbed, "I wish I was.... I wish...my little girl was here with us..." A moment later, Ruby dropped to her knees, "My god....." Sapphire then whispered to Ashton, "Grandpa, why is Mommy crying?" The viscount sighed, "I'll explain later...." Lucy brought a hand to her chest as she shuddered in tears. (Why this...? Why would a child that has not even been born be robbed of her life?)
An hour passed as Ash insisted that Pearl be given some time alone. He returned to the room she was resting in to find her silently clutching the corpse of her daughter tightly to her chest. With a heavy heart, Ash sat next to her. "I don't know what went wrong... You never got hurt after that night... You didn't eat any bad foods... I just can't figure out why this happened..." But Pearl whispered, "I know why..... I should've seen this coming..." Ash glanced over at his lover, "You know? What caused her to...?" The young mother quietly replied, "It's the curse..... The Blackflame Curse... At least...that's what I would expect it to be called..."
Ash stared in confusion at his lover, baffled by her talk of a 'curse' being the cause of their daughter's premature death. "Blackflame Curse? I don't get it..." Pearl explained, "Think about it. You know what I did... When I was still part of the Blackflame Six..." Ash shuddered, remembering being told of the mass genocide of the Lucario clans of the Hoenn region at the command of the evil Thanatos. He sighed, "Pearl... You're not the same person you were back then... Thanatos is dead. His victims can rest in peace now..." But Pearl cried, "That doesn't change what I've done! How can you even love me knowing that I had a hand in mass murder?!"
Pearl wept continuously as Ash listened in silence. Soon, he asked, "Tell me. What makes you think you're cursed?" After catching her breath, Pearl explained, "More often than not.....the members of our 'rival' clans I killed were usually the youngest... Children...." Ash winced as he heard Pearl's confession, but remained silent to allow her to continue. "I hated every minute of it... But I carried out my orders while always hoping that it was for my clan's well-being. But during one raid, I strangled a child with my Aura Whip as his mother tried to save him... As she held his body, she demanded me to explain what her child had ever done to deserve to die." Pearl remained silent for a moment before adding, "The last thing I remember before collapsing was Silent Fang slitting the mother's throat..."
Ash bowed his head in silence, having not expected Pearl to take the lives of so many children during her missions. "Pearl..... It wasn't your fault. Thanatos... He was the cause of all those deaths..." He then rested his hand on hers, "I forgive you. You're not like the others. I think you've redeemed yourself." He then leaned against the young mother, "Let's try again next time you go into heat. This was just a terrible stroke of bad luck. I know it won't happen again." Pearl sighed, "You don't have to tell me. It won't happen again. I won't allow myself to breed ever again."
Hearing what Pearl just said, Ash raised his voice, "I didn't mean like that! Pearl, give it another chance! You've wanted to become a mother all your life, right?!" But the former member of the Blackflame Six wept, "You don't understand... Why was my child dead before birth? Because I have been cursed for all the young lives I ended." She then rested a hand over her lower belly, "Any child I give birth to will never be born alive... It's a fitting punishment for a wretch like me..." Ash began to shed tears as he embraced Pearl tightly, "Pearl..... I love you. I'll respect your decision, but please..... Don't stay miserable forever. You still have a family that loves you." Halfheartedly, Pearl weakly gripped the hand of the boy she had fallen in love with. "I...love you too....." Gently, Ash scooped up the body of his daughter and cradled her in his arms. "We need to find a place to bury her. I'll wait for you outside." Pearl weakly nodded, "I'll be out in a short while....."
Several minutes after Ash left her to rest, Pearl slowly sat up in bed. But she suddenly heard footsteps approaching from the doorway. When she glanced over at the door, Pearl saw one of the Pokémon Center's Chansey nurses standing a few feet from her. "What do you want from me?" Pearl asked, a severe lack of enthusiasm in her voice. However, the Chansey did not speak as she merely frowned. But after a moment, the Chansey held out what seemed to be an oval-shaped stone. A thread was running through one end, effectively making the stone a type of modest pendant. Pearl sighed, "An Oval Stone..... The symbol of a woman's desire to become a strong mother..." But before Pearl could refuse it, the Chansey slipped it over her head, the small gray stone now snuggly resting atop the spike on her chest. Puzzled, Pearl stared at the Chansey. But she was surprised when the Egg Pokémon flashed her a reassuring smile. A faint grin crept across the Lucario's face as she stood up, "Thanks..... A little encouragement from strangers can be refreshing..."
Near the outskirts of Floaroma Town, Ash, Pearl, and their companions had gathered at a lone cherry blossom tree that stood alone in the fields of flowers. Lucy sighed, "The way it's the only one around..... It's almost as if it was meant to be here when we arrived." Ashton proceeded to dig a shallow pit at the base of the tree and stepped back as Pearl and Ash kneeled together before the hole in the ground. Together, they laid their first child to rest in the grave while wrapped in a white towel made of cotton. They then gently covered their daughter with the soft upturned earth that had been removed from the ground. Ashton then set a sizeable stone between the base of the tree and the grave and prepared to chisel into it with a kunai. But before he did so, he asked, "Her name?" Ash and Pearl looked at each other for a moment before simultaneously replying, "Hope." With a nod, Ashton began to chisel their daughter's name into the makeshift tombstone. "Hope..... Such a beautiful name."
That evening, Ash secretly discussed Pearl's state of mind with his friends and family. "I've never seen her this depressed before. I almost don't recognize her anymore." Zandria nodded, "I can hardly blame her. If what you said is true, then it's safe to say her confidence has been shot to hell." Lucy then asked, "Should we just press on while comforting her the best we can?" Ash shook his head, "Not a chance. Pearl comes before my Trainer career. I say we take her somewhere for some R&R until she gets her spirit back." Chiara frowned, "I too say that would be wise. The only question is where." But after a moment of thought, Ash snapped his fingers. "I know just the place. Rota."
Upon hearing the name of his kingdom, Ashton asked, "Rohta? Why would you want to return to your homeland?" But Ash shook his head, "Not that one. I meant the city at the northern section of the Kanto region." Lucius asked, "There's a city named Rota over there? What's so special about it?" Ashton replied, "Quite a bit, to be precise. Long before my time, Rota was the first city founded in the Kanto region. It was from there that the Kingdom of Rohta spread its roots. The only difference between the city and the kingdom is that while their names sound alike, they are spelled a little differently from each other." He then asked, "But what makes you think Rota is a good place for Pearl to rest up?" Ash replied, "Not Rota itself. There's a special event being held there soon. It's the 'Hero of the Year' festival."
Ruby's ears perked up, "Hero? Sounds like a pretty big event. What exactly happens there?" Ash explained, "Well, there's a special tournament for Trainers where we all dress up in old medieval clothing and battle it out to see who becomes that year's Aura Guardian. I was the winner in the tournament last year." But Ruby asked, "Last year?! Just when did this happen?!" Ash thought for a moment before replying, "Um..... I think about two weeks before I met you, Ruby." Shadow nodded, "If this event is held once a year, then we should probably check it out before we miss our chance. I'm all for it." As they discussed it further, Ashton pondered to himself. (Rota was said to be the home to the Hero of the Wave... It would most certainly be an honor to set foot within that city...)
That night, Ash lied in bed with Pearl. He tenderly held her from behind, his hands gently touching her chest. "You feeling any better?" Ash asked with a whisper. However, Pearl remained silent. Before drifting off to sleep, Ash whispered into Pearl's ear, "I love you." A short while later, Pearl tightly gripped the Oval Stone that hung around her neck while shedding a single tear. "I...love you too.....Ash." But as she drifted off to sleep, both Pearl and Ash whispered together, "We love you...Hope..."