AGNPH Stories

Rukario Romance by XD385


Author's Chapter Notes:

With human law standing in their way, Ash and Lucy seek a different path to make their bond set in stone. And with the birth of Lucy and Rukaria's children, their bonds only deepen as the Alphas of the three clans are sought out. The end draws near.

Note from the author: The first part of this chapter was written in my old style just before I burned myself out. The rest is written in my new style.

Awaiting the Future

“Yes, he is… I know, but they’ve been together for over a year now… Yes, he is still thirteen years old….. Are you sure you can’t make an exception…?” Delia sighed as she spoke over the phone. “I understand… Thank you for your time…” She hung up the phone with a frown. “That was the eighth church… Are there none out there who will make an exception?” She then headed towards the living room, “I guess the wedding will have to be put on hold for a while…”

The weather over Pallet Town had become wet and dreary as a thunderstorm blanketed the area with rain. Near one of the windows, Ash sat in a chair while Lucy was seated on his lap. They watched the rainfall together while their hands were rested upon Lucy’s belly. At two weeks, a noticeable bulge had formed in her abdomen. “Why is the sound of rain so relaxing?” Ash asked as he tried not to yawn. Lucy replied, “Hard to say. I guess the sound of water in general is soothing.” But Ash chuckled, “The only thing the sound of water has done for me is make me run for the bathroom.” With a snicker, Lucy grasped Ash’s hand tightly, “That’s an exception. I meant natural water sounds.” The two lovers quietly laughed in unison.

Ash was quick to notice his mother approach him and Lucy from the kitchen. “Any luck, Mom?” Delia shook her head, “I’m so sorry, you two. I’ve tried contacting every church in the phonebook. And the response was always the same.” She then sighed, “You’re too young, Ash. No matter how true your love is, you will have to wait at least five years…” Ash frowned in disappointment, but soon noticed Lucy gazing at him with a calm smile. Understanding what her smile meant, he nodded, “That’s OK, Mom. I can wait that long. As long as Lucy’s with me, it doesn’t matter.” The Lucario giggled, “It’s like you read my mind.”

Delia began to tidy up the kitchen as she tried to think of a means to help her son and his lover. But her train of thought was disrupted by a knock at the door. Not wanting to keep her guests out in the rain, she rushed to the front door to let them in. “Please, come in before you catch your death of cold… Oh, Ruby? Shadow?” Huddled beneath an umbrella was Shadow and Ruby. “Ugly weather today, huh?” Shadow muttered, somewhat drenched due to the umbrella’s cover not being suited for two occupants. Ruby chuckled, “I don’t mind getting a little wet, but good grief. Next time, I’ll bring my own.”

Once Ruby and Shadow had dried themselves off, Delia was quick to serve them some tea. “How did the pastor hunt go? Anyone available?” Shadow asked as he sipped his tea slowly. “No go. I’m just too young…” Ash replied with a frown. Ruby grumbled, “That’s a shame… Even if you’re only thirteen, you’ve proven to be responsible enough to be a husband and a father. You’d think a holy man would make an exception for you.” Lucy spoke up, “It’s not that bad. Ash and I can wait. As long as we’re together, nothing seems so bad.” But as they chatted, Ruby began to brainstorm. “Hmm… You just might have a way around it.”

Lucy turned to Ruby upon hearing her sister’s claim. “A way around it? How so?” Ruby explained, “Human society may have age restrictions for marriage, but we’re not human. Right?” Ash raised an eyebrow, “Um… Where are you going with this?” Ruby snickered, “Think about it, honey. With the exception of Latias, each of us has evolved from a Riolu at some point in our lives. And Lucario society is not quite as rigid in the bonding of lovers.” Lucy gasped, “Lucario… You don’t mean…?!” Seeing that Lucy had realized what her suggestion was, Ruby smiled, “Exactly. As long as you are mates, you can be bonded under Lucario law. All you need are the Alphas of the clan your lover came from to make it official. And since some male Lucario sometimes have more than one lover at once, we can all be sworn to you! Isn’t that awesome, Ash?!”

Ash could hardly believe his ears as he listened to Ruby’s plan. “All of you?! Really?!” Ruby nodded with a grin, “Absolutely. This way, none of us will be left out. All we need are the Alphas from the three clans. For Rukaria, you need Night Claw of the Ironspike clan. For Lucy, you need…um…Tia from the Skydiamond clan. And for Pearl and myself, you…need… Oh no…” Ruby froze as she recalled the demise of the evil Thanatos at Ash’s hands. Ash gulped, “I killed the previous Blackflame clan’s Alpha… There’s no way they would ever agree to me being with you, Ruby…” However, Shadow spoke up, “Not necessarily. I think they would give their consent for you.”

Everyone’s eyes fell upon Shadow. “Are you outta your mind?! Thanatos placed a death sentence on me! If I ever set foot back in Hoenn again, they’ll hunt me down!” Ash yelled after making certain that his mother had left the room, not wanting her to think that he was in trouble with the law in a foreign land. Shadow chuckled, “If it was anyone else in charge, they just might. But I know my father well. He would surely accept it.” Ruby asked, “Your father? What about him?” Shadow explained, “During Thanatos’ reign, my father was appointed as the Beta male. That meant that should the current Alpha meet an untimely demise, he would be sworn in as the new Alpha. Since Thanatos is no more, my father is in charge of the Blackflame clan’s activities.” Ash nodded, “OK. And how are you so sure he would let me be with Ruby and Pearl?” Shadow smiled warmly, “My father is a very honorable man. He detested Thanatos in secret and hated his laws. He will more than likely thank you for disposing of him. I’d bet my life on it.”

“All that leaves is Night Claw and Tia… Oh, wait. Is it safe for Tia to come, Lucy? I know you’re not on good terms with your clan.” Ruby spoke, concerned for her sister’s security. To her surprise, Lucy nodded, “Oh, she can come. I have no reason to fear the Skydiamond clan anymore.” Ash smiled, “Yeah, Tia seemed to be a really nice lady. She gave us her blessings when I met her.” Shadow nodded, “And Night Claw will more than likely agree to come to the ‘wedding’ of the Vulcan Warrior’s descendant. The only question is how do we get them all at the same place on the same day… And where would it be?” Lucy then asked, “Why not right here in Pallet Town?” Shadow frowned, “I guess. But someone would have to escort our guests here. They’ve probably never been outside their home regions. I can escort my father. But what about Tia and Night Claw?” After a moment of thought, Ash smiled, “Should we ask the others?”

An hour later after the rain had stopped, Ash and Lucy stood before Ashton within the Crimson estate. “Really? Escort the Alphas of the three clans to Pallet Town?” Ashton set down a cup of tea he was drinking as he listened to his descendant’s request. “Yeah. Since Lucy and I can’t get married under human law, we decided to do it under Lucario law. But we need the leaders of the clans each Lucario came from in order for it to be official.” The viscount nodded, “I understand. And I would be glad to visit Lady Tia again. But what of the other two clans?” Lucy replied, “Shadow volunteered to go to his clan, but we’re still undecided of who the escort for Night Claw will be…” But just as they were about to discuss the situation further, there was a knock at the door. “Ashton, may I ask you a favor?” They recognized the voice as belonging to Lucius.

“Ah, Lucius. Please enter. You’re just the man I wanted to see.” Ashton spoke with a smile as the Shiny Lucario entered the room. “Sorry to be a bother, but do you have any whetstones I could use? I need to sharpen my sword.” Lucius asked while glancing around. “I would be glad to help you locate one, but I need to ask you a favor first.” Ashton replied, motioning for his guest to approach him and take a seat. Lucius took a seat by him and asked, “OK, I’m all ears.” The viscount replied, “First, are you familiar with the Sinnoh region?” Lucius nodded, “I used to live there, so yeah. I know my way around pretty well. Why do you ask?” Ashton replied, “I need you to come with me to ask for Night Claw to accompany us back here.”

Puzzled by Ashton’s request, Lucius asked, “Night Claw… The Alpha female of the Ironspike clan? Why do we need her to come here?” Ash spoke up, “So she can give her blessings to me and Rukaria. It’s the closest thing to a wedding we can get right now.” Lucy nodded, “Ash is too young to get married under human law, so we’re going for the next best thing. Becoming sworn to each other with a Lucario bonding ceremony.” The Shiny Lucario crossed his arms, “I see… And a male being bonded to more than one female at once is not unheard of… That’s a clever detour you thought of.” He then smiled, “I would gladly do all I can to see my sister sworn to the boy she loves. Count me in. I’ll see to Night Claw’s arrival.” But Lucy shook her head, “You don’t have to keep calling me that… But anyway, I think it would be best for you to wait until after Rukaria and I have our babies. It would be a shame if any of you were not present when they come…” Lucius nodded, “Yeah… I would hate to miss the birth of my niece. Or is it a nephew?” Lucy giggled, “We’re pretty sure it’s a girl, Lucius. But please be patient. We have less than two months to go.”

Once the plans had been made, Ash and Lucy proceeded down the forest path home while Ashton led Lucius to the Crimson estate’s armory. Once inside, Ashton pointed to a wide flat rectangular stone on a shelf. “I believe that will suit your needs just fine, Sir Lucius.” The Shiny Lucario removed his sword from his back and carefully drew it from its scabbard. “Do you ever use the extra weapons in here?” He asked as he glanced around. Ashton replied, “Not really. The Flamberge and Soul Calibur are the only swords I need.” Lucius then began to grind the edge of his sword against the whetstone on an angle. “I noticed a spot becoming a little dull. Don’t want that next time I get into a fight.”

While Ashton looked over his suits of armor, Lucius asked, “Ashton, do you think it would be best if I go to find Tia while you go to Night Claw? The Ironspike clan reveres you, so you may have better luck in convincing her to accompany you back here. Besides, I used to be a member of the Skydiamond clan. So I know where the general territory is.” However, Ashton shook his head, “I appreciate the offer and you do have a point. However…” He then took a seat, “I would really prefer to ask Tia instead of Night Claw.” Puzzled, Lucius asked, “Really? Why? Did you meet her?” Ashton’s only response was a silent nod. After a moment of thought, Lucius smirked, “Ashton… Do you have the hots for the Skydiamond clan’s Alpha?” Not expecting such an inquiry, Ashton blushed deeply, “What?! Of course not! We just left on really good terms!” Lucius snickered at Ashton’s flustered expression. Once he had regained his composure, Ashton cleared his throat, “The truth is that I view Tia as a good friend. I seldom encounter anyone with a sense of honor, chivalry, and duty of such scale in this day and age. Let alone in a Pokémon or woman. Or both at once, for that matter.” Lucius nodded, “I see. As a knight, you can relate to her in some ways. Right?” Ashton nodded with a sigh, “Truth be told, I have never met a woman like her in this or any life. And I owe her a debt.” He then asked, “But seeing as how both clans are located in the Sinnoh region, what say you we meet up at a rendezvous point before returning home after inviting our designated guests?” Lucius smiled, “A clever idea. I’m all for it. Jubilife City sound like a good spot?” The viscount nodded, “A perfect crossroads. No objections. I look forward to our trek together, Sir Lucius.”

Meanwhile, Ash and Lucy walked hand-in-hand down the forest path back to Pallet Town. The scent of wet earth filled the air, the occasional drizzle of water falling from the countless leaves above the forest path.

“You think Tia will really be all right with us being mates?” Ash asked, his hand on Lucy’s opposite shoulder.

The Lucario maiden smiled, “I’m pretty sure she will… No, I’m very sure she will.”

Before they got much further, the two lovers paused as they saw someone coming up the path. Anabel and Sol carrying a flower basket between them.

“Hi, Daddy! Want a flower?” Sol asked as he approached his father. Resting in the basket were many types of freshly picked flowers, though they were all drenched from the rain. As were the two Pokémon children.

Ash smiled as he reached down and rubbed the Riolu’s head. “I’ll pass. But I think Lucy would like one.”

The Riolu child held the basket above his head. “OK! Take your pick, Auntie Lucy!”

The expecting Lucario browsed the basket for a moment before smiling as she picked out a lily. “Thank you, Sol. And you too, Anabel.”

The Zangoose child giggled, “Good thing I picked two! Those lilies will look great in Mommy’s hair!”

Lucy giggled as she sniffed the white flower. “That would look nice in Zandria’s pink hair. Tell her we said hi please.”

Anabel smiled as she picked up the basket. “Will do! Let’s go, Sol!” She then broke into a run while holding the basket above her head.

“Wait for me!” Sol called out as he ran after her.

Ash chuckled, “Those kids never fail to make you smile, do they?”

Lucy replied with a giggle, “I hope…” She then looked down at her swollen belly, her spare hand rubbing it. “I hope our child will be just as darling.”

Ash placed his hand upon his fiancée’s belly as well. “I know it’ll be. Oh, and let me help you with that.

The Trainer took the lily and placed it right above Lucy’s perpetually drooping ear. “Perfect. Wanna see when we find a mirror?”

Lucy smiled as she lightly touched the flower atop her head. “Now I’m really curious. Let’s hurry home so I can see.” The two lovers stayed close to each other as they continued down the forest path towards Pallet Town.

“So… What do you think I should tell Night Claw when I arrive in Ironspike City?” Lucius asked as he sharpened his sword.

Ashton held a hand to his chin. “Hmmm… Well, let her know that the descendant of the Angel of the Eternal Flame is getting married and her presence is required.”

“And if some of the other clan members try to force their way into the wedding?” Lucius asked with a slight smirk.

Ashton flashed the Shiny Lucario a scowl. “Tell them it’s invitation ONLY.” Lucius could only chuckle in response.

There was a knock at the door. “Lord Ashton, your daughter and grandson wish to see you.”

The viscount nodded, “Send them in, James.” The door was opened at his words, the Zangoose and Riolu children running in to see him with their basket between them.

“Papa! We brought you and Mommy flowers!” Anabel squealed as she lunged at her father, being caught in his arms.

“Heheh, how’s my little girl and her little friend, eh? And… Oh my, you’re rather wet, aren’t you?” Ashton chuckled as he held his child in his arms.

“Uh huh. We got caught in the rain, Grandpa.” Sol replied as he shook himself off.

Ashton chuckled as he held out his hand, a flame engulfing it. “Then left me dry you off.” He began rubbing his daughter’s fur with it; the flames quickly drying her off, but never actually came in contact with her white fur.

“Me too, Grandpa!” Sol called out as he jumped up onto the viscount.

“All right then, please be still.” Ashton replied as he rubbed his flaming hand over the Riolu child. In moments, he too was as dry as Anabel.

“Mmmm….. Feels like I just rolled around in fresh laundry.” Sol said with a grin.

Before anything else could be said, there was a knock at the door. “I heard we have guests. Is it two of my favorite little scamps?”

“Mommy!” Anabel shrieked as she ran over to the door when Zandria stepped into the room. Sol followed her, carrying the basket of flowers above his head.

“There’s my favorite girl! Did you get all soaked from the rain?” Zandria chuckled as she snatched up her daughter, cradling her in her arms. She was clad in her favorite sleeveless sea-green turtleneck shirt and blue jeans. Due to the shape of her feet, she had never taken to wearing shoes.

Sol spoke, “We sure did! But we brought you flowers too!”

Zandria looked down at the basket of flowers. Each was still somewhat wet, but the large white lily stood out to her. “Ooh, I like this one. May I?”

Anabel nodded before reaching down and snatching the lily from the basket before sliding it into her pink hair just to the side of her left ear. “How do I look?” She asked while looking around at the others.

“Really pretty, Mommy!” Anabel giggled while looking up at her mother.

Lucius chuckled, “I have to agree with them on that. What about you, Ashton?”
Ashton nodded with a grin, “It suits you.”

Sol then asked, “Miss Zandria, I’m hungry. Do you have any milk?”

Anabel then added, “Me too, Mommy. May we have some of your milk?”

Zandria glanced at Lucius, who chuckled nervously as he stood up. “Well, I see where this is going. I’ll just…uh…remove myself so as to not intrude. See ya.” He then quickly made his way out of the room and out the manor’s front door.

“What a gentleman.” Zandria said with a smirk as she pulled up her shirt without actually removing it. With a soft bounce, her large lactating furry breasts came free. She then scooped up Sol in her spare arm and held him to her breast while doing the same with Anabel. “Drink up, darlings. They’re all yours.”

Without a word, the Zangoose and Riolu children began to suckle greedily from the mother Zangoose’s breasts. Sol soon muttered, “Your milk tastes a little sweeter than Mommy’s, Miss Zandria.”

“I’m flattered to hear that. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I work with food more than she does.” Zandria said with a chuckle in response. She then looked over at Ashton and smirked. “You like what you see?”

The viscount cracked a nervous smile as he approached a familiar wooden chest. “You know it’s not easy for me to not become aroused whenever you’re baring that amazing body of yours. I think I will take a stroll through the forest.” He then pulled Soul Calibur from the chest and hung her off the back of his hip.

“Have a good one, Ashton. I’ll prepare some tea for when you get back.” Zandria replied with a smile. She then looked down at the two children nursing from her breasts. “Mmm… Reminds me of Atlas…”

Before Ashton left the room, he placed a soft kiss on her cheek. “I love you, Zandria. And I always will.” The beautiful Zangoose grinned brightly, a blush on her face. Ashton then proceeded down the hall and out the front door of the manor.

Ashton proceeded to open the rusty screeching iron gates of his estate before stepping outside. “I really need to do something about these…” He grumbled under his breath while wincing at the awful noise of the gates grinding on their hinges.

Unwilling to endure the screeching of the rusty gates again so soon, Ashton left the gates to his estate open as he began to walk down the forest path. “Ah, I love that smell.” He muttered while breathing deeply. The freshly fallen rain had soaked the forest, filling the air with the aroma of wet soil and wood.

After a brief moment, a woman’s voice echoed from nowhere. “Your descendant’s child will be born soon, will it not?”

Ashton glanced down at his side, seeing the pommel of Soul Calibur’s hilt sticking out from behind his hip. “Yes, in another forty days or so. You seem fairly excited about it, Soul Calibur.”

The spirit sword paused for a brief moment for replying, “I… I am grateful I was able to assist.”

The viscount smiled, “It is because of you that their bond was not destroyed. I am most grateful for your aid that night, my friend.”

Soul Calibur then asked, “Young master… If I may speak my mind?”

Ashton nodded silently while continuing to stroll down the path. Soul Calibur then spoke. “There have been times where…I have felt a powerful instinct within me. Something that demands I seek dominance over others… It frightens me.”

Upon hearing the spirit sword’s words, Ashton stopped in his tracks. “Dominance… That sounds almost exactly like Soul Edge.”

“I know… It goes against my entire purpose. If I had not found a new purpose in serving and protecting you… I dread what would have become of me.” Soul Calibur spoke with a somber tone. “Young Master… Or should I refer to you…as Ashton?”

Ashton did not speak for a brief moment before smiling, “You have never once spoken my name before. It feels pleasant when I hear you say that.”

Soul Calibur spoke again, “Very well. Ashton… I wish to thank you for keeping me with you for as long as you have. These feelings are still difficult for me to understand, but… I believe I am beginning to grasp the concept of bonds. And I feel honored to share a bond with you.”

Ashton reached behind himself, placing his hand gently upon Soul Calibur’s hilt. “As am I, old friend.”

But just before Ashton could continue walking, he detected a bright light beginning to shine from behind him. He waited silently, expecting the sound of movement. What he got instead was the feeling of someone gently leaning against him from behind.

“Who…” He muttered quietly, recognizing the feel of two breasts pressing against his back. The person behind him was clearly a woman. He then felt two arms reaching around him, a pair of human hands with fair complexions crossing his chest before holding him in a tender embrace. “Who goes there?”

The voice of Soul Calibur spoke just behind Ashton’s right ear. “As I have done for the past 600 years, I will continue to serve and defend you, young master…”

Determined to find out who was standing right behind him, Ashton turned around abruptly. However, just as he did so, he felt the presence of the woman vanish. But as his eyes glanced from side to side, he heard Soul Calibur’s voice speak again. “I will always be with you…my friend.”

The viscount looked down at the hilt of the spirit sword. The woman who had just embraced him. Could it have possibly been the spirit sword herself?

Ashton closed his eyes, remembering the voice. While it certainly felt odd to have it being spoken directly into his ear, he recognized it as Soul Calibur. “And I will always value your loyalty, old friend.”

Just outside of his mother’s home, Ash and Lucy found an unexpected sight. Rukaria was grasping her personal secret weapon in her hands, the liquid steel great sword Malevolence. After performing a few wide slashes, Rukaria noticed her lover and friend approaching. “Hey there, lovebirds! Just paid a visit to Sir Ashton?”

Lucy nodded while also seeming somewhat unnerved. “Um… Yes, we did… But is it really safe for you to be swinging that around in your current condition?” With only two weeks remaining in her pregnancy, Rukaria’s belly had become quite bloated.

Rukaria smiled as she hoisted Malevolence onto her shoulder, “I know plenty about weapon use, Lucy. And besides, Malevolence would never allow herself to harm me. That’s why I’m using her instead of my usual gear. Right, Malevolence?”

A woman’s voice echoed through the minds of everyone who happened to be nearby. “Yes, mistress. I would hate to see anything happen to her child.” The black and yellow eye that stared out from above the hilt blinked once while staring at Lucy.

Lucy smiled, slightly unnerved that a sword was staring at her. “Well, it’s good that you’re still taking it easy. Just don’t overdo it. Your baby will be coming very soon.”

Rukaria giggled, “I know that. And I know better than to… Oof!” She suddenly brought a hand to her belly, rubbing it gently.

“Are you OK?” Ash asked as he and Lucy rushed to the blind Lucario’s side.

With a blush and smile, Rukaria looked at them. “It’s all right. The baby kicked.”

Lucy immediately brought her hand to Rukaria’s belly. Even without feeling it, the movement of Rukaria’s unborn child could be seen. Her crimson belly fur shifted as the Riolu pup within stirred.

“So beautiful… I can’t wait to see him…” Lucy muttered, trying her hardest to not tear up.

Rukaria smiled warmly, patting Lucy on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Lucy. You’ll have your own little bundle of joy before much longer too.”

Lucy blushed, a hand on her own belly. Her child was not very far along at the time, so there was no detectable movement. “I know… Still can’t believe it’s really happening…” However, she then blushed, “Excuse. I’m getting a craving for some ice cream right now.”

Ash rolled his eyes, “Here we go with those cravings again. I made sure we have plenty of chocolate for you, Lucy.”

“Thank you, Ash. Now… See you in a bit.” Lucy replied as she hurried inside.

“What were your cravings again?” Ash asked, wondering if Rukaria suffered from the same problem.

“Pickles. The really big ones too.” Rukaria replied with a chuckle.

Before they could say anything else, Ash asked, “Come to think of it, have you seen Dad?”

Rukaria cocked her head to one side, “Dad? I thought you… Oh, right. Sir Aaron’s Lucario. I saw him heading out into the fields. Something about watching Shadow and Pearl training?”

Ash smirked, “Whoa, I better not miss it. See you around, Rukaria!” He then kissed her goodbye and ran off towards the vast open plains near the western edge of Pallet Town.

Meanwhile, Ashton had just returned to his manor, wincing once again as he pushed and pulled the rusty squeaky iron gates in front of it. “Christ, I’m amazed that noise has not broken any of my windows yet.”

Ashton began to take a walk around his manor in the courtyard that surrounded it. Ever since he and Aurora had razed it, the courtyard and plant life had returned to how they were 500 years earlier. Flowerbeds were growing here and there with large bushes growing. Chiara had done her best to keep the bushes trimmed, but due to her being unable to emulate Cassandra’s artistic talents, each of the bushes were mostly cube shaped. “At least they are tidy.” Ashton muttered to himself as he slowly shuffled along.

Just as the viscount rounded the corner of his house to walk along the backside, he very nearly ran right into Aurora. “Ooh! My apologies, Aurora!” Ashton said with a yelp as he nearly collided with the beautiful Suicune.

“Oh, it was my fault, Ashton. I was too lost in thought to hear you approaching.” Aurora retorted, bowing her head in a show of slight shame.

“It must be a deep thought for you to be so distracted. May I hear you out?” Ashton asked, extending a hand to his lover.

The Shiny Suicune sighed, “Well… I have been thinking about Zandria. Or to be more specific, her body.”

Ashton crossed his arms as he averted his eyes. “Yes, her new form is rather…..succulent, isn’t it?”

Aurora sighed, “Ashton… Am I still beautiful to you?”

The viscount replied with a tender embrace. “Of course you are. I dare say you are quite possibly the most elegant and graceful of the women I love.”

Aurora smiled, “Thank you… I was starting to have doubts… Although…”

Ashton noticed the change in his lover’s tone and asked, “Although?”

“Although… You remember that little chat we had a while back about me getting a body like hers? May I….shall we say…try it on again?” Aurora asked with a smirk.

“Of course, my dear. Right this way.” Ashton replied with a nervous smile as he extended an arm to his side, inviting Aurora to follow him.

Once inside the manor, Ashton led Aurora to his private quarters. “Just a moment now.” He spoke as he began to rummage through one of the chests in his room. “Ink… Tags… A brush… There we go.” He set out a single paper tag with a bottle of calligraphy ink and a brush for applying it.

“Ashton… Isn’t that the type of tag used with your paper bombs?” Aurora asked, growing increasingly worried.

“Indeed, it is. But as you can clearly see, this tag does not have any incantations drawn on it to trigger an explosion. This tag will have a different function. I just hope I remember which symbol corresponds with the Transformation Jutsu…” The viscount replied as he dipped his brush into the ink and began to draw.

A moment later, the tag had an intricate seal drawn onto it. Ashton then made a hand sign to focus his Chakra, imagining what type of body Aurora would want. “Yes… That should do.” He muttered as he applied his hand to the tag and sending a burst of his Chakra into it. “There we go. Come closer, Aurora.”

Doing as she was told, the Suicune approached her lover. “All right… This will be painless, won’t it?”

Ashton nodded as he placed the tag on the floor. “Of course it won’t hurt. Now, just relax.”

Remembering the previous time, Aurora placed her paw on the tag. “Ashton, are you sure this is still safe?” Aurora asked from within the smoke cloud.

“It should be. Just be calm and wait for the smoke to dissipate.” Ashton replied, watching intently for the smoke to clear. But when it did, he stared aghast. “Good lord…”

Aurora felt a twinge of fear when she heard Ashton’s words. “Oh dear… Did something go wrong? Am I hideous?”

A deep blush spread across Ashton’s face. “No, no, quite the contrary. You…um… Just look at yourself.” He pointed to a full-length mirror that rested between a lowboy and a wardrobe.

As she approached the mirror, Aurora asked, “Why am I walking on just two legs? What happened to my…” As she looked down at her foreleg, she paused. Instead of a paw, she saw a hand with think delicate fingers. “My paws… And why does my chest feel heavy?”

Aurora rushed to the mirror, eager to witness the change. She found that her body had gone from quadruped to bipedal. Her feet still remained as paws, albeit somewhat larger to compensate for the loss of two of them. Her color patterns remained unchanged, but a pair of sizable breasts rested upon her chest. And despite her elegant slender frame, her hips were fairly wide. “My god…”

Ashton walked up behind her, placing his hands on her sides. “Do you care for this look?” He then began to slowly move his hands up and down her torso.

At her lover’s touch, Aurora sighed happily, “That feels lovely… Mmm… I’m already enjoying this new form again.”

“Me too.” Ashton replied as he cupped her breasts. “Your figure is lovely. I’m impressed by the size of your bust and hips.”

Aurora slowly swayed her hips, placing her hands over Ashton’s own. “Motherhood is known for doing that.” A moment later, she asked, “I wonder… What would it be like if I were to carry your child while in this state?”

Ashton froze as he blushed even more deeply than before. “Aurora….. Do you mean…?”

The anthro Shiny Suicune looked over her shoulder at him and smiled warmly. “I do, dear Ashton.” She then turned around and embraced the love of her life. “When the time comes, I would love to bear you another daughter, Ashton… But only while I am in this form.”

Ashton kissed her softly on her muzzle, “I would be honored, Aurora. But first… Let’s find you some clothes. I would rather not have the children or our servants discovering you while like this.”

In one of the vast fields around the edges of Pallet Town, Ash hurried along until he found an intriguing sight. Shadow and Pearl were a significant distance from each other while holding their respective Aura weapons, Shadow holding a pair of large spinning Aura Shuriken in his hands while Pearl held a pair of Aura Whips in her hands while keeping them wrapped around her arms.

“Whoa… Two?” Ash asked as he noticed that Pearl was holding one more Aura Whip than he usually did.

“Dad! Over here!” A child’s voice called out. Ash glanced around and saw Lucash waving at him while seated atop a large rock in the meadow. Seated with him was Sapphire and Lucario. And floating just above them was Latias.

“Hey, guys! What’d I miss?” Ash asked as he ran over to his children and father before hopping up onto the rock.

Sapphire giggled, “Aunt Pearl and Mr. Shadow having been going at it for a while. They’re pretty evenly matched.” She then handed her father a bag of popcorn. “Want some?”

Ash chuckled as he took a handful. “Thanks, Sapphire.” Right after eating some, he turned to Lucario. “So, whatcha think of those two, Dad? Not the kinda skills you’re used to, huh?”

Lucario nodded, “I’m bewildered by how flexible Aura can be. Not just spheres, but various weapons too. Perhaps I should try to develop my own Aura weapon.”

Latias smiled as she snatched some popcorn for herself, “You should try out Ash’s Aura Cluster Bombs! They hit with a BANG!”

A second later, Shadow charged Pearl with his two shuriken spinning like saw blades. But when he lunged at her upon drawing close, Pearl slid between his legs, tangling the ends of her whips around his shins. “What the…?!” Shadow yelped upon realizing that he had missed.

“Gotcha this time, Shadow!” Pearl shouted as she stood up, jumped, and then pulled her whips over her head and slamming Shadow onto his back hard.

“Guhah! That…wasn’t fun…” Shadow groaned as his Aura Shuriken faded away.

Pearl smiled as she dismissed her Aura Whips. “Good fight, Shadow. It’s nice to see we’re still as sharp as ever.”

Shadow grunted as he sat up. “You’re kidding, right? You’re tougher than ever before now that you’ve evolved into a Genetrix! Since when could you handle TWO of those whips?!”

The Lucario and Genetrix paused as they heard applause. They faced the four witnesses, all of them applauding vigorously. “Awesome move, Aunt Pearl! Can you teach me that?!” Lucash shouted.

Pearl chuckled as she and Shadow approached them. “I don’t know. Forming your Aura into a weapon is a unique process. You have to find the form that compliments you best.”

Sapphire smiled, “I told you a whip wouldn’t suit you!” The beautiful Lucario maiden rubbed her little brother’s head, prompting an annoyed pout from him.

Lucario then asked, “How about an encore? I’m curious if you can win twice.”

Pearl smirked, “Oh, you won’t be disappointed. Shadow?”

Her former teammate nodded, “You got it. Time for round 2.” The two Fighting types ran back out into the field again as they once again formed their weapons.

Days passed. Then weeks. The new Ketchum household was always bustling with activity with almost daily well wishes from old friends arriving in the mail. The Ketchum family continued to adapt to living in their new home, as well as eagerly awaiting the arrival of Lucy and Rukaria’s pups.

Rukaria staggered into the Ketchum household, her hand on her swollen crimson belly. Ruby glanced over at the blind Lucario, “Are you OK?”

Rukaria groaned, “I don’t know… I think I’m…having contractions…”

At those words, Ruby sprain to her feet. “If that’s the case, you better get to the bathroom! Come on!” Before Rukaria could object, Ruby snatched her up in her arms and rushed upstairs.

“This is awkward…” Rukaria muttered, feeling like a bride who was being carried away on her honeymoon.

“Well, we don’t have time.” Ruby replied as she pushed the bathroom door open with her foot before setting Rukaria down and opening the shower door.

“Gah! Ruby, I’m not done in here yet! Wait your turn!” Ash shouted, clutching a bar of soap in his hand.

Ruby replied, “It can’t wait, dear. I think Rukaria’s going into labor. She needs you close to her for when the baby comes.”

Ash gulped in nervousness. “Oh… Well, in that case…” He then reached out and took Rukaria’s hand. “Come here, Rukaria. Some warm water should help you feel better.”

“I hope so… Oof…” Rukaria muttered as she stepped into the shower.

“I’ll go round up everyone else. Be right back, you two!” Ruby spoke as she ran out of the bathroom.

Ash helped Rukaria sit down with her back to him as she clutched his hand. “OK, you know how to do this, right?”

Rukaria grunted, “Yeah, I read the steps… But…” She then looked over her shoulder at the boy whose child she was carrying. “Tell me, Ash… Do you think our child will inherit my curse?”

Ash was hardly surprised by Rukaria’s doubts. “Pearl had a similar problem a while back after she had Hope. And look at her now. She had Sol and he’s doing fine.” He then placed his hand on her belly. “And I can feel your baby moving a lot. He really wants out.”

Rukaria closed her eyes as her Aura surged. Inside her own body, she could see the form of her unborn Riolu child almost constantly squirming around. “He looks healthy…” She then placed a hand on her belly, feeling the movement herself. “I… I think it’s going to be OK.”

Ash placed his hands on her belly while still seated behind her. “Exactly. Now then, start pushing. I want to see our son too!”

Rukaria grunted, “OK. Wish me luck.” She clutched her lover’s hand tightly, her teeth gritted as she began to push.

“Easy, Rukaria. Don’t rush.” Ash muttered into her ear.

However, Rukaria retorted, “Easy? Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for this?! I’ve been unable to breed until just recently! This is a dream come true for me! Ergh…” She closed her eyes as another contraction shook her body.

Ash chuckled, “OK, I get it. Just push. Your son’s gonna be here soon.”

Rukaria did as she was told, gritting her teeth as she felt her child slowly moving down her birth canal. In her mind, it felt as if an eternity had passed. But when she opened her eyes, Rukaria heard the whimpering of a puppy. “Is that…?”

Ash pointed down between Rukaria’s legs. Curled up before her while being drenched by the water falling from the showerhead was a tiny Riolu pup. “He’s yours.”

Rukaria, tears streaming pouring from her sightless eyes, picked up the newborn in her hands and cradled him in her arms. “He’s ours… My… My own son…”

Ash then smiled, “And he looks just like you.” Just like his mother, the Riolu pup bore unusual colors on his fur. What was normally blue was gray while the small yellow ring of fur around his neck was a crimson hue. When he opened his eyes, they were just as pale as his mother’s. But before Rukaria could ponder if this meant he was blind, the Riolu reached out to her, clearly showing that he could see her. “I think he knows who you are.”

Rukaria shuddered as she embraced her newborn son tightly. “I love you….so much…”

Ash embraced the blind Lucario from behind and whispered into her ear, “And I love you both.”

Minutes later, there was a knock on the door. “Ash? Rukaria? How’s the baby?”

The two lovers glanced towards the door. The voice was that of Latias. “Think we should show them?” Ash asked.

Rukaria nodded, “Let’s.” She then called out, “Give us a few minutes! We’ll be right out!”

Ash then turned off the water and opened the door before wrapping himself and Rukaria in a towel. “Our son doesn’t seem to mind getting wet.”

“Nope. But he sure is hungry.” Rukaria giggled as the Riolu began to suckle from her breast.

Once Ash was dressed, he and Rukaria stepped out of the bathroom. “Wasn’t Latias just out here?”

Rukaria glanced around, “Maybe they’re all downstairs?” The two lovers went downstairs moving slowly to listen closely for any chatting.

“Ooh, here they come!” Latias shrieked the instant she saw Ash’s feet coming down the stairs.

Ash looked around as he and Rukaria entered the kitchen. “We heard that the Ketchum family has a new addition.” Lucius spoke with a smile.

Rukaria smiled warmly as she held her newborn son. “We do. And he’s right here.” There was an audible aww as everyone in the room beheld the newborn Riolu.

The child was set down on the kitchen counter as everyone gathered around. “Soooooo cute! I just wanna cuddle with the little dear!” Pearl giggled as she clasped her hands together.

Ruby chuckled, “Sis, you have your own baby boy! And he’s just as cute!”

Pearl retorted, “Oh, I know. It’s just… You know how I am with children. Ever since I became a Genetrix, I just can’t help myself when it comes to babies.”

Zandria patted the Genetrix on the shoulder, “That’s just because you’re a great mom. No shame in that, right?”

Ashton stepped forward and began to pet the child on the head. “What an adorable lad you are.” However, he did not notice that the Riolu was reaching for a pair of tongs nearby. “Rukaria, have you and Ash decided on a eeh?!”

Ashton was caught off guard as the Riolu suddenly grabbed Ashton’s tongue between the tongs like a clothespin. Rukaria laughed, “What’s the matter, Sir Ashton? Riolu got your tongue?!”

Latias giggled, “Ooh, he’s got you good, papa!” Ashton lurched forward as the Riolu pulled his tongue further, giggling all the way.

Ash spoke, “OK, you little scamp! Let ‘em go!” After a brief wrestling with his son, Ash managed to get the tongs away from him. “Sorry about that, Ashton. I guess he inherited his mom’s sense of humor.”

As he rubbed his tongue between a pair of fingers, Ashton spoke, “Loki. There’s no better name for him.”

Shadow asked, “Loki? Who’s that?”

The viscount replied, “The trickster god of Norse legend. What better name for a boy who pulled his first prank less than twenty minutes out of the womb?!”

Chiara facepalmed as she groaned, “Oh no… First Ruakria, and now Loki. Those two mischievous imps will be the death of us all!” Everyone present burst into laughter.

A moment later, Lucy stepped forward. “Rukaria? If it’s OK with you… May I hold him?”

The blind Lucario smiled as she handed her son to her friend, “Go right ahead. But be gentle.”

As Lucy held Loki in her arms, the tiny Riolu reached out to her and touched his hand against Lucy’s. “You are…just so precious and tiny…”

There was a deathly silence as everyone watched. Lucy began to choke on tears as she struggled to hold them back. “I hope…” She then smiled brightly while letting her tears fall. “I hope my baby will be just as healthy as you…”

Without a word, Ash walked up behind her and embraced her from behind. “It will, Lucy. I know it will.” His hand then rested upon her belly, which by then had become very swollen with only two weeks remaining.

Lucy then smiled at Rukaria as she held out Loki to her. “You’re very blessed, Rukaria…”

Rukaria sighed as she held Loki in her arms. “I am… I am…so blessed…”

She then looked around at the many friends she had made. “I thought my immortality was a curse. But if I had never been cursed, I would have never met all of you. Thank you…for being there for me.” The blind Lucario was then embraced simultaneously by Ruby, Pearl, Lucy, and Latias as everyone else applauded in unison.

Two weeks passed. The due date drew near for Lucy, who was both excited and nervous. But at the same time, she was filled with a sense of dread. For too long, whenever her luck had been high, it would inevitably come crashing down in a horrific fashion. Would the birth of her child be the point when he entire world would turn on her once again?

The moon had risen as the night began. Everyone had gathered at the new Ketchum household as soon as word spread that Lucy was having contractions. “Lucius, enough with the pacing. You’re gonna wear a groove into the floor!” Ruby spoke as Lucius constantly paced back and forth.

“I can’t help it! My sister’s having a baby! I’m gonna be an uncle really soon!” Lucius replied, nearly tripping over Sol in the process.

Ashton sighed, “Don’t worry so much, Sir Lucius. Chiara is with him and her medical knowledge is just as vast as Serenade’s was. Lucy is in good hands.”

In their bedroom, Ash knelt by Lucy as she slid off her blue shorts. “You’re gonna be fine, Lucy. Just take it slow.”

Lucy breathed slowly, spreading her legs as wide as she could. “I know… I shouldn’t be afraid. I’ve been waiting a long time for this…” She then tightly clutched Ash’s hand. “Please don’t go, Ash…”

Ash smiled warmly as he placed his spare hand on Lucy’s shoulder while Chiara stood at the foot of the bed. “I’m right here, Lucy. Now go ahead and push. We’ll get through this together.”

“OK… Ugh…” Lucy groaned as she pushed, a contraction shaking her body. “It….hurts…”

Chiara placed one of her large hands over Lucy’s swollen belly. “Allow me.” A gentle glow covered her hand as she projected Recover on Lucy’s body.

“Huh? It doesn’t hurt anymore…” Lucy muttered, feeling the pain of childbirth fading rapidly.

A moment later, Ash asked, “How’re you holding up, Lucy?”

Lucy smiled faintly, “I’m all right… This isn’t as hard as I expected…” She then glanced at Chiara as the Lugia’s hand reached between her legs. “Thank you, Chiara.”

The Lugia smiled, “It is no trouble. Now, keep pushing. I can already see the… Hmmmm… This is interesting.”

Ash asked, “Interesting? What is?”

Chiara chuckled, “I think you’re in for quite a surprise. But for now, keep going.”

Lucy gritted her teeth. “OK… Ergh… I can do this…”

Ash clutched his fiancée’s hand tightly. “You’re almost there, honey. Just a little more and we’ll finally have our own family.”

At her finace’s words, Lucy shed a single tear. “I can’t believe…’s going to become a reality in just another minute…”

Moments later, Lucy grunted as she felt the mass between her legs leave her body. The sound of a puppy whimpering filled the air. Chiara then smiled as she held the newborn Riolu in her hands. “Congratulations, you two. It’s a girl.”

Ash smiled warmly, trying to restrain his tears. At long last, the child of his most beloved companion had been born. “It’s finally happened, Lucy. Look at her. She’s…… Wow. She really is a beautiful gem.”

Lucy smiled as she started to sit up, “Let me see her, please…” Her expression changed from a look of quiet bliss to one of silent horror. The Riolu in Chiara’s hands instantly reminded her of a familiar face. Instead of blue fur, the child had yellow fur. “No… How did you escape from…”

Ash chuckled as he picked up his daughter and started to hold her out to Lucy. “It’s all right, Lucy. It’s just our…”

But before their child could reach her, Lucy suddenly backed up until she was standing on the very head of the bed. “NO! STAY AWAY FROM ME! I WON’T GO BACK! LEAVE ME ALONE, DOOM!!!”

Ash winced as he looked down at his daughter before looking back at Lucy. “Doom?! What’re you getting… Oh man…” Ash glanced down at his child once again. While the colors that coated her body were not quite bold enough, they did in general match the colorations of the Angel of Doom. “Lucy, it’s OK! Doom wasn’t reincarnated or anything! She’s just a SHINY Riolu! You know, like Lucius!”

Regardless of Ash’s explanation, Lucy did not budge. She remained rooted to the head of the bed without taking her eyes off of her daughter. “Please… Go away… I thought I would never have to deal with you again…”

Ash groaned as he handed the Riolu to Chiara. “Hold her for a minute. I think I need to find someone who can convince her nothing’s wrong with our kid.”

Chiara nodded, “Very well. I’ll make certain she does not try anything rash.” Ash then hurried out of the room and down the hall.

“Guys, I could use some help here!” Ash shouted when he burst into the living room where his family and friends were located.

“Is Lucy OK?” Lucius asked right away.

Ash scratched his head, “Um… Well, she’s not hurt, but… Ugh, she’s just flipping out about something. I need some help calming her down.”

Ruby smiled as she stood up, “Leave that to me. Lead on.”

Lucius stepped forward, “I’ll go too. She’s my sister, after all.”

Ashton then stood up, “I believe I should attend as well. Lead on.”

Without much speech, Ash hurried back down to the bedroom he shard with Lucy.

“OK, Lucy. What’s the…urk!” Lucius spoke as he entered the room with his friends. However, Lucy was still not wearing her blue shorts after giving birth.

“Lucius, what’s caught you….uh…” Ashton asked as he too entered the room.

“Good god, Lucy! Put some pants on!” Lucius shouted as he looked away.

Ashton did the same with an arm raised to block his view of Lucy’s nether regions. “Well, that was more than I needed to see.” Ruby could only laugh hysterically at their reactions.

Lucy was too frightened to pay much mind to anyone in the room besides her own daughter, who was constantly reaching out to her from Chiara’s grasp. The Lugia then spoke, “She kept mentioning something about Doom. What do you suppose it is?”

Ashton then looked down at the newborn Riolu. “Doom? Perhaps…the Angel of Doom?”

Ash then asked, “How do we check to make sure our daughter isn’t the Angel of Doom?”

Ashton smirked, “Easy. We have someone who is sensitive to evil energies evaluate her. Chiara? Would you be so kind as to get Lucy to calm down?”

Chiara nodded, “Gladly.” She then launched a reserved Water Pulse at Lucy, splashing her in the face.

“What… Peh… What was that for?!” Lucy asked as she shook her head to regain her bearings.

“May I have your attention, Lucy?” Ashton asked as he drew Soul Calibur from her scabbard on the back of his hip.

“What are you… No… NO! Stay away!” Lucy shrieked as she once again saw her daughter in Chiara’s hands.

“Get ahold of yourself, Lucy! I’m going to prove your child has been born pure!” Ashton shouted as he displayed Soul Calibur for all to see.

The sight of the Sword of Salvation calmed Lucy somewhat as she knew it could easily overwhelm the Angel of Doom while in such a tiny fragile body. Ashton then held the blade near the Shiny Riolu, who began to reach out to the beautiful blue blade. “What do you say, Soul Calibur?”

The holy sword’s voice echoed in the minds of all who were present. “The child is pure. I detect no malfestation whatsoever.”

Lucy felt herself relax greatly at those words. “You have nothing to fear, Lucy. Now, go to your child. The daughter you have been pining for all this time.” Ashton spoke with a smile as he returned the spirit sword to her scabbard.

As Lucy climbed back down from the head of the bed, Chiara set the Shiny Riolu child down on the bed as well. The pup immediately began to crawl towards her mother. There was a deathly silence as mother and child locked eyes. Lucy slowly reached out to her daughter as if entranced. “You’re my… You’re really mine…aren’t you?”

The Riolu pup responded in kind by reaching out and touching her mother’s hand. With tears building in her eyes, Lucy gently picked up her daughter in her hands. “My own… I can’t believe you’re really here…”

Ashton cleared his throat as he glanced around, “I think we should let them be. Shall we be going?”

Ruby nodded, “Sure thing.” She and Ashton, Lucius, and Chiara promptly left the room, leaving the new family alone together.

Lucy held her child to her chest, the Riolu gently nuzzling her. Ash reached out and placed his hand on Lucy’s. “How’re you feeling?”

Lucy looked over at her husband-to-be and smiled, tears beginning to cascade down her face. “I… I’ve never felt so happy before…” She then reached down and kissed her daughter on the forehead. “It’s like a dream… I’ve been dreaming of this day for so long. I can’t believe it’s finally here.”

Ash reached out and placed a kiss on Lucy’s cheek. “This is no dream, Lucy. You finally have a family now and that’ll never change.”

The new Lucario mother smiled at the young father, “Ash… No words can ever describe how grateful I am to have you in my life. And…I dread to think what would’ve happened if you hadn’t stumbled upon me back there in Hoenn… Where would I be now?”

Ash frowned as he bowed his head. “I really don’t wanna think about that. I can’t imagine life without you anymore…” He then tried to smile, “But on a happier note, what should we name her?”

Lucy glanced down at her child and smiled, “Hmm… Well… That golden yellow fur gives me ideas…” After a moment of thought, Lucy looked over at Ash. “Saffron. How does that sound?”

Ash looked down at his newborn daughter and grinned, “Little Saffron… Man, that sounds so beautiful.”

Lucy then kissed her daughter, prompting a giggle and a yawn from her. “I love you, Saffron. Oh so much.” She then reach out and kissed Ash on the lips. “And I love you, Ash.”

Ash replied in kind with a kiss of his own. “And I love you both.”

Lucy let out a yawn, exhausted from the birth process. “I’m sorry, Ash. But can we wait until Saffron and I finish a nap before we show her off to everyone?”

Ash nodded with a smile, “I’m not surprised you’re so tired. Sure thing, Lucy. I’ll let them know to let you rest for a while.” He then draped Lucy and Saffron with a blanket, their heads resting beside each other. He then kissed them both on the nose. “Sweet dreams, you two.”

Lucy blushed as she yawned, “Thank you, dear… See you soon.” Lucy then cuddled up with her daughter, the two of them snoring lightly as Ash left the room as quietly as possible.

A week later, Ashton gathered up Lucius and Shadow as their friends and family gathered with them at the southern edge of Pallet Town. “So then, is everyone here and accounted for?” Ashton asked as he looked to his left and right.

“I’ll handle the Blackflame clan.” Shadow spoke while looking up at Ashton.

“I’ll pay a visit to the Ironspike clan.” Lucius said on the opposite side of Ashton.

“And I will see to the Skydiamond clan.” Ashton replied.

“You boys be careful out there. I’ll be sure to whip up a feast by the time you return.” Zandria spoke while Anabel sat on her mother’s shoulder.”

“Bye, Papa! Have a good time!” Anabel spoke while waving goodbye to her father.

“It’s all up to you guys now. We need the Alphas here to make sure the bonding between us is official.” Ash said with a smile as Lucy cradled Saffron in her arms while standing next to him.

“Just leave it to us, Ash. We’ll be back before you know it.” Shadow replied with a grin.

“All right then, lads. Enough stalling. Let us be off! To Hoenn and Sinnoh!” Ashton called out. Their family and friends said their goodbyes and saw the three warriors off as they proceeded south.

“Are we taking a shortcut across the bay again?” Lucius asked as they walked.

Ashton nodded, “That was the plan.”

Shadow then asked, “We did remember to bring funds for the ferry tickets, right?”

Lucius nodded as he tapped a pocket on his trench coat. “I’ve got it all right here.”

The three companions continued walking until they heard the crashing of ocean waves against the shoreline. “Here we are. Now we just head east, right?”

Lucius nodded, “Yeah that’s where Vermillion City is. And the closest harbor in Kanto.”

Ashton then held the hands of the two Lucario. “Give me a moment, gentlemen, and we’ll be on our way.” A second later, a pair of flaming wings sprouting from Ashton’s back wile flickering in a rainbow of colors. “And away we go!” Without missing a beat, the viscount took to the air and flew east, dragging his two companions behind him.

“This feels extremely awkward just dangling while being carried along like this!” Lucius shouted, his feet occasionally clipping the ocean surface below him.

Shadow then asked, “Just remember, I’m taking a ferry to Hoenn while you guys are going to Sinnoh!”

Ashton nodded as he flapped his wings, “As we planned! Right, Sir Lucius?”

The Shiny Lucario could only grumble, “Just don’t drop me out here and I’ll have no objections!”

Days later, Lucius and Ashton were cruising comfortably across the ocean on a Sinnoh-bound ferry. While relaxing in Ashton’s cabin during a tea break, Ashton was reading a scroll he had brought along while Lucius was keeping himself occupied by polishing his sword.

“Did you remember to toss the Sword of Shadows into the sea this morning?” Lucius asked without even looking at Ashton.

“I certainly did. Although I must admit the recurring return of that nuisance every other week is starting to become wearily predictable.” Ashton replied, glancing at Lucius over the scroll.

Moments later, Lucius asked, “So, Ashton… What do you think of Tia?”

Ashton lowered his scroll and looked directly at his friend. “Well… She is strong, lethal in battle, and very honorable and rather friendly. And despite all that, she has a certain type of allure to her that I have never seen in a woman before.”

Lucius smirked, “So you DO have some interest in her, eh?”

Instead of Ashton replying sheepishly like the previous time he asked that question, the viscount instead bowed his head. “Lucius… I strongly doubt she even has time for romance of any sort. Leading an entire clan is a great responsibility.” He then slightly smiled, “And besides that, she gives me the impression that she is the type of woman whose love you have to work to earn.”

The Shiny Lucario nodded, “Huh… I see your point. But do have any interest in her?”

Ashton sighed, “You really shouldn’t assume, Lucius. I know full well that she has no real interest in seeking a mate. Although I do hold her in high regard and am looking forward to seeing her again.” He then gazed up at the ceiling. “If she ever does start to show that type of interest in me though, it will be nothing short of miraculous.”

Lucius examined the blade of his sword as he replied, “Hmm… Yeah, I see your point. Sorry if I pried too much. I was just getting curious once I heard the two of you actually fought alongside each other.”

Ashton chuckled as he went back to reading his scroll. “No offense taken. But for the love of all that is good and holy, do not bring that subject up to her when we rendezvous at Jubilife City. She will likely strike you so hard, you won’t need a ferry to get back to Pallet Town.”

Days later, Shadow departed from his ferry in the bustling seaside city of Slateport City. The harbor was full of activity, but Shadow had to be careful to not let himself be seen while departing the ferry. “Tch, can’t believe they wouldn’t let a Lucario board a ferry without a Trainer. Good thing hiding in shadows has always been a special talent for me.”

Wasting no time, the lone Lucario hurried north out of the city. He was fearful that he would find remnants of Ash’s battle with the Blackflame Five from months earlier, but found virtually no trace of the savage battle that took place. In the middle of the meadow where the dreaded Thanatos had met his end, Shadow paused and scowled. “You got exactly what you deserved, you monster. I only wish I could’ve done the deed myself. I hope you’re enjoying rotting in Hell, Thanatos.”

It took time for Shadow to traverse the landscape, even with the use of Extremespeed to hurry him along. Around four days into his visit of Hoenn, Shadow found himself at the shoreline just north of Mt. Pyre. “I must be getting close… Where are the clan grounds again?”

Just as he turned around, Shadow froze as he heard a quiet pop followed by a small Aura projectile flying by his head. “What the…” His eyes scanned the area carefully before looking up. Lounging on a low tree branch was a Lucario with what seemed to be a rifle in his arms composed of his Aura. The rifle was pointing in Shadow’s direction, even though the Lucario had both eyes closed in relaxation.

“Long time no see, Shadow. What brings you back to Hoenn?” The Lucario replied with a very relaxed a lazy tone.

Shadow chuckled, “Well, cover me in thorns and call me Cacnea. Never thought you’d be the first Lucario I’d bump into, Deadshot.”

Deadshot yawned as he placed a hand behind his head. “I’m just out on patrol. Not much going on around here. Just the way….I like it…” Deadshot began to snore lightly, his rifle still pointing at Shadow.

“Just as much of a laidback oaf as I remember.” Shadow said with a chuckle as he formed a small Aura Shuriken in his hand. He then tossed it at Deadshot, hoping to get a response out of the dozing Lucario.

Deadshot’s response was sudden. Without moving, he fired another shot from his rifle. The projectile struck the shuriken, canceling each other out. “You know I hate being disturbed during a nap.” He spoke nonchalantly.

Shadow snickered, “Couldn’t help myself. I know you’re a light sleeper when on duty. In any case, could you escort me to our clan grounds? I need to speak to my father about an urgent matter.”

Deadshot opened one eye and lazily gazed at Shadow. “Heh, he’s been wondering what happened to you after Thanatos bit the dust. I’ll take you there.” He then dismissed his rifle, the weapon vanishing in a puff of the blue energy. “Right this way.” Deadshot began jumping from branch to branch as he hurried through the trees, Shadow following close behind him.

A short while later, Deadshot led Shadow to a large clearing. “Here we are, old friend. See any familiar faces?” All around the area, many Lucario and Riolu were going about their business. The Riolu were playing while the Lucario were busy tending to their specific duties in the clan.

Just before Shadow could say anything, a loud hearty voice shouted from his right. “Shadow! Where ya been, ya sneaky little runt?!”

“No way… Is that…urk!” Shadow grunted as a Lucario snatched him up in his arms and gave him the mother of all bear hugs. “Dang it, Gigas, put me down! Ow! You’re gonna snap me in two!”

Gigas laughed, “Don’t be that way! We were all worried sick about ya! Where ya been?!” The burly Lucario stood abnormally high for his kind, standing over four feet in height but not quite making it to five feet.

“That HURTS! Drop me!” Shadow shouted again as he began to hear his joints pop and crack. Suddenly, there was a familiar pop as Gigas yelped and dropped Shadow.

“Ow! What’s the big idea, Deadshot?!” Gigas roared at the lazy-eyed Lucario.

Deadshot replied with his calm relaxed tone “Sorry about that. Wasn’t aiming to kneecap you. Good thing I had my rifle’s ‘settings’ set to rubber bullets.”

Gigas grumbled as he rubbed his knee, “You and that smug… Peh, whatever. Anyway, what brings you back to Hoenn, Shadow?”

Shadow smiled, “I need to speak with my father. He’s the current Alpha, right?”

Gigas grinned, “Leave that to me!” He then ran off into the clans grounds.

Deadshot crossed his arms and muttered, “Five…four…three…two…one…”

As if on cue, Gigas came running back while holding another Lucario above his head. “Found him!”

Shadow could only facepalm as Gigas carried the Lucario to him. The Lucario shouted, “Gigas, put me down this instant!”

Once he was right in front of Shadow, Gigas set his passenger down on his feet. “Yes sir. Someone wishes to see you, sir.”

The Lucario brushed himself off as Shadow observed him. The Lucario’s most defining feature was a noticeable scar on his chest in the exact same spot one would find his chest spike. Shadow smiled, “It’s been too long, Father.”

At the sound of Shadow’s voice, the Lucario glanced at him. “You’re… Shadow?”

Shadow nodded, “Yes, Father. It’s been way too long.”

The two Lucario held each other in a tender embrace. “Where have you been? Did you have anything to do with the fall of Thanatos?”

Shadow smiled, “No, although I wish I did. That was all done by my good friend Ash Ketchum.”

At the mention of that name, Shadow’s father muttered, “Hmm… So it really wasn’t that white-haired lad after all.”

Shadow then asked, “Come to think of it, what has been happening since your ascension to the position of Alpha, Father?”

The Lucario smiled warmly, “There have been many changes.” He then looked over at the many Lucario and Riolu going about their business. Some Lucario were even departing and arriving. “Are there any you don’t recognize?”

Shadow nodded, “Yeah… Who are they?”

The Alpha male replied, “Members of former rival clans. Clans who escaped our former death squads.”

Shadow gasped in shock, “You mean…some evaded our searches?!”

His father nodded, “Nothing short of miraculous. They went to extreme lengths to hide themselves from Thanatos’ evil. When we found them, they attacked us on sight to prevent us from reporting their locations back to Thanatos. At least until we explained that he is no more.”

Shadow then asked, “Thank goodness… Have they begun to trust us again?”

Hs father smiled, “Wait and see for yourself.” He then closed his eyes and focused his Aura as his dreadlocks raised slightly. A moment later, he opened his eyes. “They should be here in a moment.”

No sooner had he finished saying that, two Lucario maidens came running over to them. One had a remarkably curvy and busty form while the other was slender and lithe. The more slender of the two smiled as she stopped in front of the four Lucario and greeted the Alpha with a cheery tone. “We came as soon as you called, Sir Phantom!”

Phantom then faced his son. “This is White Dawn…”

The slender cheery Lucario maiden bowed, “Hello!”

Phantom then added, “And Darknight.”

The curvy attractive Lucario maiden merely replied with a nod as she gazed at the four Lucario males with a cool stare. Phantom then spoke, “These two are twin sisters from the Mistforest clan. They have both joined the new Blackflame Five.”

At the mention of the name of the unit he had once belonged to, Shadow jumped, “Hang on… I thought that unit was wiped out when…”

Phantom chuckled, “Someone had to fill your shoes, Shadow. Come now, everyone. Let us show him.”

White Dawn cheered, “Woo! Check us out! Everyone in position!”

Deadshot yawned, “Yeah yeah, sure.”

The five Lucario gathered around each other as Gigas shouted, “Get a load of this, Shadow!”

In unison, the five Lucario molded their Aura in different weapons. Deadshot was holding his rifle while Gigas was hoisting a long thick club over his shoulder that strongly resembled a kanabo. White Dawn was holding what seemed to be a long lance in her hands while front of Darknight’s fists were coated in a layer of her Aura. Lastly, Phantom was holding a pair of daggers in a reverse grip. Phantom then asked, “What do you think of the new Blackflame Five?”

Shadow crossed his arms as he studied his clansmen. “Well, I can see who replaced who. Gigas replaced Titan as the muscle of the group. Darknight replaced Silent Fang as the close range, and probably speedy, part of the gang. White Dawn replaced Pearl as the intermediate range fighter, and Deadshot replaced Hawkeye as the sniper.”

Deadshot nodded as he and his comrades dismissed their weapons. “That’s the way it goes. Though our predecessors aren’t easy to match.”

Shadow shook his head, “Don’t ever put yourselves below them. Except for Pearl, that is. They were all murderers. You are all beyond them now.”

Phantom nodded, “It does my heart good to see how much you have changed, my son. You are not the blind follower you used to be.”

Shadow smiled warmly, “It was all because of Ash that I became a better person… Speaking of which, that’s why I’m here.”

Phantom then asked, “Oh? And what does your friend have to do with your arrival?”

Shadow explained, “Well, Pearl and him have been in love for some time now, as has her sister. They want to become official mates and we need you there to make it happen.”

Phantom raised a hand to his chin. “Pearl and her sister have become mates with a human? Certainly odd, but granting them the Blackflame clan’s blessings is certainly a fair retribution for disposing of Thanatos. And speaking of which, isn’t Pearl’s sister that spikeless maiden who departed our clan over a year ago?”

Shadow chuckled, “Believe me, Father. You won’t recognize her at all when you see her. She’s a completely different person by now. Bold and tough. Her name’s Ruby, by the way.”

White Dawn awed at the mention of Pearl’s sister. “Aww, that’s a lovely name. Is she beautiful?”

Shadow chuckled, “She certainly is. But in any case, I would prefer to depart as soon as possible, Father. If you wish to come along, that is.”

At this, Phantom smiled. “Of course I want to go. Our friend brought the reign of a mad tyrant to an end. I wish to thank him myself in person.” He then turned to the other members of the Blackflame Five and spoke, “The four of you are in charge during my absence. Darknight, you shall be the temporary leader during my leave.”

The silent maiden nodded, “I’m on it.”

White Dawn grinned at her sister, “Wow, sis! That’s a huge promotion! What’re you gonna do first?!”

Darknight then smirked, “I’m starting my reign by barring Gigas from eating until everyone else has finished their share.”

The hulking Lucario warrior groaned, “Now that’s just mean! You know I need to eat a lot to keep my strength up!”

Shadow chuckled, “Well, you guys have a good time. Shall we be going, Father?”

Phantom smiled, “Yes. Lead on, Shadow. And take care, my friends.” The members of the Blackflame Five waved goodbye as Shadow led his father southwest towards Slateport City while leaping through the trees in order to save time.

Days earlier and miles from Hoenn, Ashton and Lucius disembarked from their ferry in the harbor of Sandgem Town. It was morning, so the harbor was bustling with activity as ships unloaded their cargo and crews.

“We’re not here for sightseeing, Sir Lucius. Let us keep our visit short.” Ashton spoke as he surveyed the area around him.

Lucius nodded, “Yeah, I know. We head north to Jubilife City before we part ways to reach the two clans, right?”

Ashton nodded, “Indeed. Let’s hurry along now.” The viscount led the Shiny Lucario north and out of the sleepy little seaside town.

The trek to Jubilife City lasted only a few days as Ashton and Lucius ran most of the way, stopping at a familiar roadside inn to rest at one point. “Ugh, I’m still not used to seeing such absurdly tall buildings around me.” Ashton groaned as he looked up at the towering skyscrapers around him.

“Then don’t look up. We’re just passing through right now. And did you say you were going for the Skydiamond clan while I was heading for Ironspike city?” Lucius asked as he checked a map he brought along.

“Yes, that was the plan. Shall we be on our way?” Ashton asked, looking at the map as well.

Lucius nodded as he folded the map. “Sure thing. I’ll check into a hotel here if I get back before you do. See ya later, Ashton.” The Shiny Lucario and viscount bid each other farewell as they went their separate ways, Lucius heading east with Ashton heading north.

Not far out of Jubilife City, Lucius came to the Oreburgh Gate. “Oh boy, it’s too dark in there for me to see. Why didn’t I ask Ashton for a light before he left?” Lucius muttered as he pondered how to get through without slamming his face into any stalagmites in the dark.

“I guess this’ll work.” Lucius walked into the tunnel and closed his eyes while channeling his Aura. All around him, he could make out the shapes of the environment. The quality of his ‘vision’ was crude, but it was effective enough for him to navigate without hurting himself. “Guess I’ll be getting outta here sooner than planned.”

Lucius emerged from the tunnel in under an hour, the city of Oreburgh towering ahead of him. “I’m pretty sure Ironspike City is southeast…” He muttered to himself as he hugged the southern edge of the city to avoid distractions.

The trek to Ironspike City required Lucius to camp out in a forest for one night before he could reach his destination. By the time he finally arrived, it was morning.

Lucius gazed around, recognizing the miles of farmland and many clusters of modest huts. He could see many of the Ironspike clan’s Lucario and Riolu gong about their duties, either playing or harvesting their crops. “OK… Where would I find Night Claw?” The Shiny Lucario muttered as he began to walk along in search of the clan’s Alpha female.

Going from one female Lucario to another, Lucius instantly began to have trouble locating the Alpha of Rukaria’s clan. “Good lord, why do they all have to look alike? It’s not like I can remember their individual scents!” After well over an hour of searching, Lucius groaned, “OK, think. If I was Night Claw, where would I be?”

A woman’s voice spoke behind him, “I would be right behind the lone visitor to my home.”

Lucius jumped as he spun around to face the owner of the voice. Sure enough, a lone female Lucario was standing before him. “I think I remember you… You were traveling with Lord Ashton, weren’t you?”

The Shiny Lucario nodded, “Yeah, that was me. I’m Lucius, before I forget. And if you’re Night Claw, I need to speak to you about something important.”

Night Claw nodded, “I’m all ears.”

Lucius then explained, “You remember Ash, right? The descendant of Ashton?” When Night Claw nodded again, Lucius continued, “Well, he is seeking to be bonded to some of the Lucario maidens he has been traveling with. Rukaria is one of them. So you are needed for the ceremony to be official.”

Night Claw smiled, “Essentially a wedding, eh? And it is the descendant of the Angel of the Eternal Flame who is being wed? It would be an honor to attend. Could you escort me there?”

Lucius smiled, “I certainly can. Also, we’re to rendezvous with Ashton on our way back to Ash’s place. When can we get going?”

Night Claw smiled, “Right away, if that’s fine. Just let me notify the local militia of my departure and we’ll be off.”

Lucius nodded, “OK then. I’ll be waiting by the western edge of town.”

At roughly the same time Lucius arrived in Ironspike City, Ashton was trekking through the Eterna Forest. “Tia said something about the Skydiamond clan’s territory being somewhere to the north of Eterna City… I’m practically past the northern border of this forest by now. Shouldn’t be too far now.” The viscount muttered as he quickened his pace.

The area north of the Eterna Forest was still heavily forested. Ashton began to grow frustrated, wondering if he had wandered off course. But before he could pause to get his bearings, Ashton froze as he saw a Lucario drop down from the trees before him. In one hand was a wooden staff with a jagged diamond on one end. The Lucario itself was wearing a breastplate that seemed strangely familiar to Ashton.

The Lucario sternly stared at Ashton, the viscount remaining still while prepared to evade any incoming attacks. However, the Lucario stared with an expression of surprise. “Wait… Aren’t you…” He then stood up. “Yeah, I remember you. Aren’t you the warrior who aided Lady Tia in defeating and sealing the Angel of Doom to the east months ago?”

Ashton nodded, “I am. And you are from the Skydiamond clan, are you not?”

The Lucario smiled, “Oh right, now I remember! I saw it all! I was there too. I escorted Lady Tia and the Oracle there with nine others.”

Ashton brought a hand to his chin, “Hmmm… Yes, I recall ten others Lucario being there. In any case, could you lead me to Tia? I need to speak with her.”

The Lucario replied, “Are you alone?” When Ashton nodded, the Lucario motioned for him to follow. “Right this way. Lady Tia informed us that you are always welcome here.”

The two walked through the forest for a time until they came to a clearing. Scattered about it were numerous Lucario, some carrying the same kind of staffs like the one Ashton’s guide was holding. Some were huddled around a fire while roasting slabs of meat. The guide then approached one Lucario in particular who was wearing a cape with a red cloth tied over her left eye. “Lady Tia, someone wishes to see you.”

The Lucario looked in Ashton direction, showing her right eye. She then smiled warmly and began to approach him. “Hello, Ashton. I was wondering if we would ever cross paths again.”

The viscount dropped to one knee, took Tia’s hand, and kissed it lightly. “It is an honor, Lady Tia.”

Tia chuckled lightly before pulling away, “Sir Ashton, please. The other’s are watching.”

Ashton scratched the back of his head with a sheepish smile, “My apologies. Old habits die hard.”

Tia replied, “Well, that’s understandable considering your chivalry. In any case, what brings you all the way out here? I suspect this is not just for a friendly chat.”

Ashton nodded as he took a seat on a log. “You are correct. I’m here to ask you for a favor.”

Tia took a freshly roasted slab of meat on a stick and began to nibble on it. “We still owe you a debt for your aid in sealing the Angel of Doom. Name it.”

Ashton then smiled, “Well, you remember Ash, don’t you?” When Tia nodded, Ashton added, “Well, he and Lucy wish to become life mates. But they need you present to make it official.”

Just behind the two, the Skydiamond Oracle leaned on his/her staff. “Really? I had sensed a growing bond between them over the previous months.”

Ashton smiled, “Not only that. They just recently had a child together. Her name is Saffron.”

At this, Tia and the Oracle froze. Tia muttered, “Wait… Seriously? Lucy…actually succeeded in…”

The Oracle muttered, eyes wide, “So that explains the tiny presence I felt with them… Even so…” He/she spoke, “This is…monumental. This is the first time EVER that she has actually…”

Tia smiled, “Say no more, Oracle. This is an event we must not miss. We shall accompany you to this ceremony, Sir Ashton.”

The viscount asked, “WE? You are both coming?”

The Oracle nodded, “If it involves an important event in the Angels’ existence, I must witness it.”

Ashton chuckled, “I see. Well, it will be an honor to have both of you with us. When may we depart?”

Tia handed both Ashton and the Oracle a slab of roasted meat on a stick. “Once we’ve filled up for the journey. No one should travel on an empty stomach.”

Ashton took his and smiled, “Thank you, Tia. And my goodness, this smells delightful. What’s the recipe?”

The Oracle replied, “Meat cooked over an open fire. No seasoning used at all.”

That evening, Ashton, Tia, and the Skydiamond Oracle took shelter inside what seemed to be an old mansion located somewhere near the northern edge of the Eterna Forest. “Well, luck certainly smiled on us this evening. Just as it was beginning to rain as well.” Ashton spoke as he entered the mansion with the two Lucario in tow.

The Oracle muttered, “I’m not certain we should be here. This Old Chateau has been said to be haunted.”

Ashton glanced at the Lucario sage, “Haunted?” He then drew Soul Calibur from her scabbard and held her in his left hand. “Soul Calibur. Do you sense any evil nearby?”

The spirit sword replied, “I am uncertain… There is a bizarre aura enveloping this area, but it… I do not believe it contains any malice.”

Ashton nodded as he returned Soul Calibur to her scabbard. “You heard her. We should be safe.”

Tia nodded, “I hope so. I only have experience facing down demons, not the undead or supernatural.”

Ashton chuckled, “Well, I have experience in facing the undead, but I confess I have yet to face an actual ghost.”

The interior of the mansion was quite dusty with paint peeling off the walls, small holes in the ceiling, and deteriorated flooring. It exuded a powerful sense of mystery, one that compels others to explore it.

The Oracle asked, “I suppose we should find a place to sleep. A mansion such as this should have numerous bedrooms.”

Tia replied, “Let’s split up. Oracle, you come with me upstairs. Ashton, would you mind searching the ground level?”

Ashton nodded, “Gladly. Take care.” He watched as the two Lucario went up two separate staircases not far from the entrance. Ashton then walked between the staircases, entering through a doorway that led to a kitchen.

“Well, there seems to be nothing too…eh?!” Ashton paused as he noticed an old man staring at him from across a very wide table not unlike that in his own manor’s dining room. “Oh, my apologies, sir. I was not aware this mansion was inhabited. I will just… Um, where are you going?”

The old man turned and began to move down the table, all without making a sound. As he moved along, he became increasingly transparent until he vanished from sight entirely. “…..This place really IS haunted…” Ashton muttered as his hand rested upon Soul Calibur’s hilt.

“Do not fret, young master. The apparition was free of malice.” Soul Calibur’s voice spoke.

“Phew… Perhaps I should just hurry along and find the others…” Ashton muttered as he hurried out of the kitchen and upstairs.

“Lady Tia? Oracle? Are you here?” Ashton called out, looking down a hall that spanned both ways on the upper floor. To his relief, he found the Oracle walking down the hall towards him with his/her staff in hand.

“Ah, Oracle. Any luck finding a place to rest?” Ashton asked as the Oracle approached him.

The Oracle nodded, “Yes, there are a few bedrooms up here. The master bedroom seems to be in good shape overall.”

Ashton then glanced around. “Where is Tia?”

The Oracle replied, “She found the bathroom and is currently taking a shower. I’m surprised the plumbing in this ruin still functions.”

Ashton smiled, “Ah, I could certainly use one. Will you go next?”

The Oracle shook his/her head, “I will go last if that is fine with you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to explore some more. This place…..intrigues me.” Ashton then watched as the Oracle continued on down the hall.

After checking the rows of rooms, Ashton found the bathroom. The room was steadily filling with steam as the sound of falling water filled the air. Ashton could make out the form of Tia moving behind the glass door. “Is that you, Lady Tia?”

Her voice replied, “Yes, I’m here, Ashton. Is everything all right out there?”

The viscount smiled, “Yes, this place seems safe. I did run into the ghost of an old man, but he vanished without so much as saying hello.”

Tia spoke, “Really? So this place actually is haunted?”

Ashton nodded, “Not in a bad way. I think any ghost that resides here is nonviolent.”

Tia replied, “So I see. Could you leave the room for a few minutes? I’m almost done in here and would like to dry off in peace.”

Ashton bowed, “Ah, then let me get out of your hair.” He then left the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

Ashton leaned against the wall right next to the doorway that led into the master bedroom, waiting for Tia to emerge from the bathroom. Resting on the bed was Tia’s vest, shorts, blindfold, and cloak. Leaning against an end table on one side of the bed was the Skydiamond sword.

Upon hearing a door shut, Ashton’s gaze immediately turned to look down the hall. Walking towards him was Tia, her body tightly wrapped in a towel. For some reason, her left eye was shut. “All yours, Sir Ashton.” She spoke while walking towards him.

“Many thanks, Lady Tia.” Ashton replied as he headed towards the bathroom to bathe for the night. However, once he was inside, he remembered that Tia had left her clothing in the bedroom. “Perhaps I should do the same.” He muttered after snatching a towel from a shelf and heading back towards the bedrooms.

Ashton turned and entered through a doorway, expecting it to be an empty unused bedroom. However, he overshot it and ended up walking right into the master bedroom, where Tia was just beginning to dress. Ashton took two steps into the room before he stopped, seeing Tia standing perfectly nude from behind.

Tia’s ears twitched as she heard someone behind her, prompting her to turn partially and look at Ashton over her shoulder with her right eye. Ashton could not make out any frontal details of her body, but could still get a general idea of Tia’s form.

The Lucario and viscount shared a long gaze with each other, Tia looking like she was going to scream at him to leave at any second. Before she could, Ashton closed his eyes and began to take a few steps backward. “I am so sorry…” He then felt his way along the doorway and disappeared from sight, heading down the hallway to an empty bedroom.

A short while later, Ashton was bathing in the shower, his towel hanging just outside for easy access. However, he soon noticed a familiar form standing outside the shower door. “I am not quite done yet, Oracle. Please be patient.”

However, a different voice replied, “Wrong Lucario, Ashton. It’s Tia.”

Ashton froze at the sound of the Alpha female’s voice, but soon replied, “Once again, I am very sorry for walking in on you like that. I honestly thought I was entering an empty room.”

To his surprise, Tia spoke, “It’s fine, Ashton. You didn’t see anything too revealing. I was honestly expecting you to hit on me. But you didn’t. I commend your restraint.”

Ashton, not expecting Tia’s praise, blushed, “I… You flatter me, Lady Tia… Are you sure you are not angry?”

Tia grunted, “Well, I was rather irritated that someone walked in on me, but you retreated without trying to take advantage of me. Most men wouldn’t have done what you did.” She then turned to leave. “I’m going to get ready for bed. I’ll see you in the morning.” Ashton then heard the door close, leaving him to bathe in solitude.

A short while later, Ashton proceeded down the hallway towards his bedroom. The lighting in the hallway had long since failed, leaving it nearly pitch-black in the night. However, he noticed light shining from the doorway leading into the master bedroom. Ashton then entered his own blackened bedroom, sliding on a pair of underpants. However, he then left the room and knocked on the doorway leading into the master bedroom.

“Oracle or Ashton?” Tia’s voice replied.

“It’s Ashton. Are you decent, Lady Tia?” Ashton asked, feeling somewhat apprehensive about facing her after seeing her nude.

“I’m clothed, Ashton. You may enter.” Tia replied. Ashton peaked into the room. Tia was sitting in bed, reading a small book that she seemed to have found in a drawer on the end table next to her. On the end table was a small lamp, a sign that the mansion’s electricity was still functioning. “Is there something you need… Why are you carrying that sword?”

Ashton replied, “I go nowhere without Soul Calibur. Especially in a mansion that I have confirmed to be haunted.” Tia chuckled, understanding his fears.

“Well, what brings you here?” Tia asked again as Ashton set Soul Calibur on the end table opposite from her side of the bed.

Ashton replied, “I… I want to stay by your side as you sleep. I worry for your safety.”

Tia frowned, “Ashton, I’m not some frail little maiden. I am more than capable of defending myself. You underestimate me.”

However, Ashton sat on the edge of the bed and look at her. “I’m well aware of that. I know how powerful you are after fighting alongside you. It’s just… We don’t know what to expect out here. What if something strikes while you sleep?”

Tia felt a cold chill as she considered this, almost as if she could feel many evil unseen spirits lurking just above her head. “……point taken. Very well, Ashton. You may share this bed with me.”

Ashton then pulled the covers down and climbed under them. “Thank you, Tia. I’ll stay close.”

However, Tia then gave him a stern expression. “But don’t think this means I’m a coward. It only means I’m concerned about you as well. This way we will both be able to defend each other if attacked while the other sleeps.”

Ashton was surprised by this explanation. “Concerned? What do you mean?”

Tia averted her gaze. “I mean… Look, Ashton. I like you. I’ve never met a man, let alone a human man, as chivalrous as you. You’re someone I can trust. And I want to protect you.”

Ashton smiled, “That’s exactly how I feel about you, Tia. I can’t remember the last time I met a woman with your kind of strength and confidence. You have a strong allure to you.” He then placed his hand over hers. “I consider you a friend, Tia. That’s why I want to be here for you.”

Tia gave Ashton a warm smile, “So the feeling is mutual. In that case, I hope you have sweet dreams.”

Ashton nodded, “Likewise, Lady Tia… Wait a minute. Will the Oracle be fine sleeping by him…I mean her… I mean… Just what gender is the Oracle anyway?”

Tia chuckled, “Even I’ve never figured it out. But the Oracle is a reliable friend. And don’t worry about him…her…whatever. The Oracle has amazing foresight. If a threat is approaching him/her, she/he will always see it coming. Even in sleep.”

Ashton chuckled, “Remind me to figure out what the Oracle’s gender is once we reach our destination.”

Tia nodded as she turned off the lamp next to her. “Just don’t overdo it. In any case, good night, Sir Ashton.”

Ashton smiled, “I will. Good night, Lady Tia.”

As he lay in bed, Ashton began to ponder on the Oracle true gender. But more than anything, his thoughts turned to the future. After everything he and Ash had been through, it truly felt as if the end of a long hard road was finally drawing near.

“We’ve been through a lot, friends. Time to see it all the way through to the end.”
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