AGNPH Stories

Forbidden Love by XD385


Story Notes:

This may become a bit of a Naruto crossover, but no characters from the series will appear, this I promise.

Reunion among the Dead

Around two weeks after arriving in the Far East, Ashton and his servants had become quite close with the townspeople. They had developed their own likes, routines, and favorite foods. Zandria in particular became a frequent visitor to the sushi restaurant where she nearly killed herself with wasabi. Even though they were far away from home, the Far East felt like a new home to them now.

Ashton was strolling by a brook that flowed through the town with Laika at his side. But as they crossed a wooden bridge to the other side, Laika stopped as they reached halfway across. "Something troubling you?" The Mightyena growled, "We are not alone." As she spoke those words, six shinobi clothed in black suddenly emerged from the trees on each side of the brook, three on each side. Their heads were masked with hoods to hide their identities. But one of them jumped backwards as the other five closed in and blocked off any way off the bridge.

"Is there something I can help you with?" Ashton asked in a polite tone. One of the shinobi replied in a raspy voice, "Yes. You can escape from our assault. That is, if you can." Ashton reached for the hilt of the Flamberge, but all five shinobi opened up their vests to reveal numerous paper tags attached to their chests. Soon, a sizzling sound was heard as they began to ignite. Laika sniffed the air, "Gunpowder?" But Ashton gulped, "Paper bombs!" The viscount then picked up the surprised Mightyena in his arms. Then, after focusing his Chakra into his feet, made a mighty leap straight up as the suicidal shinobi exploded in a flash of fire!

Ashton fell back to the ground after leaping a good thirty feet into the air on the opposite side of the brook that he and Laika originally intended to reach. "Thanks." Laika muttered as Ashton set her down. But they then noticed the sixth shinobi still standing nearby. "You still here? Why didn't you blow yourself up too?" Ashton asked as he reached for his sword. The shinobi replied, "It was my duty to see if you would survive that little test and report the results." He then made a hand sign, "And now that the test has ended, I'll just be on my..." But before he could finish his sentence, the shinobi yelped as he felt something grab his ankle! "What the?! Who's there?!" All three of them looked down and saw a hand reaching up from the ground and holding the shinobi's ankle. A voice spoke, "And just where do you think you are going?" The shinobi gulped, "Oops..." He then let out a yell as he was dragged down into the ground.

Koga stood before the shinobi, whose head was the only part of him above the ground. The wise old shinobi chuckled, "How was that? Earth Style: Headhunter Jutsu." Ashton applauded, "Very well done, Koga-sensei. You always did excel at Earth Style jutsu." He then looked down at the shinobi who, although they could not tell through his hood, was blushing in embarrassment at his capture. Koga then asked, "Now then, your attire seems to match those of the mysterious shinobi that have been spotted now and then. Are you not?" Knowing that he had no hope of escaping or fighting back should Koga try to kill him, the shinobi decided to cooperate. "I am." Koga then smirked, "I see. Then you have some explaining to do with the emperor."

A short while later, Ashton and Koga kneeled before the emperor in the imperial palace. Accompanying them was Laika, who refused to leave Ashton's side, and Chiara, who Ashton requested to join him. And kneeling before them was the captured shinobi. His arms were tied to his body with rope and a tag had been placed on each upper arm. They had been inscribed with an incantation that suppressed muscle activity, reducing his chances of escaping from his captors further. After removing his hood, they found that his skin tone matched the reports perfectly. He was bald and had very pale skin. His eyes were also an eerie yellow and a reptilian shape.

Koga explained, "This man attacked Ashton along with five others. The other five attempted to destroy him with a suicidal attack using paper bombs. But his training under my guidance paid off and he escaped without injury. I then captured this man before he could escape." The emperor spoke, "You are a member of the mysterious cult that has kept its tracks hidden for some time now. Just what is this cult and who is its leader?" The prisoner replied, "We have no names. Our organization has no identity. All that matters to us is the realization of our goal." The emperor then asked, "And those goals are...?" The prisoner grunted, "I can't reveal that to you. I am not permitted to do so to outsiders." Ashton then spoke, "No matter. Chiara?" The Lugia turned to face him, "Yes, my lord?" He then motioned towards the prisoner. The Lugia smirked, "I see."

Chiara stood up and stood behind the prisoner. "Hey. What are you doing to me?" Chiara smiled, "Don't worry. You might actually enjoy it." She then closed her large hands around his head as her eyes glowed a light blue. "Mmmm, such soft feathers..." The shinobi sighed as his bare flesh was caressed by Chiara's hands. The Lugia soon muttered, "Resurrection..... Great Serpent..." Koga then whispered to Ashton, "Just what is she doing?" Ashton whispered back, "Isn't it obvious? She's reading his mind for the information we seek. Many Psychic type Pokémon are capable of it." Chiara continued to speak, "Ashton... Become an ally... Aid in mankind's.....subjugation..." Ashton grumbled, "Seems they were planning on recruiting me. And they intend to enslave humanity?" He then asked, "Chiara, just how do they intend to carry out their goal?" The Lugia nodded, "One moment." She then began to search deeper. "I can see something..... The image is becoming clear... It... It kind of looks like..." But before she could make out the form of what she was seeing, the head of the shinobi exploded in a burst of blood and brain matter.

Chiara staggered backwards out of shock, screaming in horror at what had happened. "What is this?! What did I do?! What happened?!" The Lugia shuddered in fright at the sight of her hands and chest smeared with blood. The body of the shinobi had fallen forward, spilling its blood across the floor. Ashton gulped, "What the hell happened?" The emperor added, "Some sort of safeguard?" Koga nodded, "Most likely. This is an extremely effective means of keeping information from falling into the wrong hands. A series of traps are set into the shinobi's mind with an elaborate genjutsu. Should someone try to pry into the shinobi's mind to reap his knowledge, the shinobi dies in this manner, preventing any information from being salvaged by his enemies." Ashton shuddered, "To even throw away the lives of their allies in order to keep their goals secret until they've been reached..... Whatever their goal is, it's clearly saturated with black intent. And what did Chiara mean? Resurrection? Great Serpent?" He then turned to Koga, "Sensei, do you suppose this Great Serpent is the Yamata no Orochi?"

The emperor gasped, "Orochi?! How would an outsider such as yourself know of that legend?!" Ashton smiled, "Oh that. Master Koga gave me a scroll upon his departure from Rohta depicting various legends from this land. He even translated them for me. Fascinating tales. And I have to say the legend of the Yamata no Orochi is my favorite." Koga frowned, "As much as I am pleased that you enjoyed my gift, I seriously doubt the Yamata no Orochi is their goal. It is only a legend. And the legend claims that the Orochi covered eight hills and eight valleys. If something that large truly existed, there must have been significant evidence left behind. But after all these years, there has never been a report of where the Orochi may have been slain. And of course, if the Orochi never existed, the Orochi cannot be resurrected." Ashton nodded, "I see your point. Still, that story was impressive nonetheless."

The emperor spoke, "If their goal is to enslave humanity, then we cannot allow them to succeed. Koga, take Ashton and hunt down the cult's leader." But Ashton asked, "But how are we supposed to find them?" The usually silent Laika then spoke, "I'll handle it. I'll just follow the scents of those thugs back to where they came from." Chiara, who had washed the blood out of her feathers with a Water Gun, smiled, "Brilliant, Laika." Koga then turned to Ashton, "How about it? Will you accept this mission?" Ashton sighed, "Their goal is almost no different than Captain Lance's goal of unleashing genocide on the human population of Rohta. Of course I'll go." The emperor then nodded, "Thank you. I will make sure you are greatly rewarded when you return from this mission. Good Luck." With a bow, the four guests left the palace as a few of the emperor's servants cleaned up the mess made by the prisoner's corpse.

That night at the Akatsuki Inn, Ashton slipped out of his armor and began to put on a shinobi's robe and pants. He slid on gloves that left his fingers uncovered and had a metal plate on the back of each hand. He then slid on tabi socks and sandals that looked more like a pair of boots. But unlike boots, the toes extended at the bottom. They were most likely designed to provide the protection of a boot while still allowing the wearer to feel through his toes. It may be that they were also designed this way to reduce the chances of the footwear from falling off by accident, a common mishap with sandals. But as he was about to put on his hood, a voice spoke, "Whatcha doing, Ashy?" The viscount turned to the door and found Laura floating there.

"Laura?" Ashton asked as the Latias floated over to him. "Ooh, looking good, Ashy!" The viscount grumbled, "Tell me. How many times have I told you to not call me that?" The Latias giggled, "All right, all right. I'll stop. But really, that's a really cool outfit! What's it for?" Ashton replied, "This is the attire for a shinobi. They are stealth warriors that usually operate under the cover of night. To this affect, they wear dark clothing that does not make much noise. I'll be wearing this when I meet up with Master Koga as I am aiding him on a mission tonight." Laura then asked, "But why aren't you wearing your armor?" Ashton grinned, " makes too much noise. Even the slightest clank would reveal my presence." Laura then looked over her master as he put on his hood. The hood covered his entire head, but still revealed his eyes. A simple metal plate was in front of his forehead for extra protection. His entire outfit was a very dark blue. "Ashton, I gotta say you always look good in blue!" Laura said with a wink. Ashton smiled, "Thank you. Now then, I must be off. I should be back by morning." He then placed the Flamberge on his back and set out to the bridge where he had been attacked that day.

It did not take long for Ashton to reach the scorched remains of the bridge. Koga and Laika were already there. "You look like a true ninja in that outfit, Ashton." Koga said with a smile. Along with his usual dark purple garb, Koga had outfitted himself with a pair of tanto swords, one on his hip and the other on his back. Ashton grinned, "It's thanks to you that I'm a ninja at all. But when all is said and done, I'm more of a knight than anything else." He then looked down at Laika, "Lead on, Laika." The albino Mightyena nodded and sniffed the ground. She silently led the two shinobi to the edge of town. Shortly after passing the town gates, Laika stopped. "The scent heads west." But before they could go any further, a voice called out from behind them, "Aren't you forgetting something, brother?"

Ashton turned to face the town gates and saw his seven other servants standing there while being gently illuminated by a pair of torches on the walls. "Shouldn't you girls be in bed?" Zandria smirked, "Not a chance! We know that this mission you're on is dangerous. So we're gonna back you up." Ashton groaned, "Oh no you're not. You are to remain here until I return." But Chiara then asked, "If we can't come, then why is Laika accompanying you two?" Ashton replied, "We need her to follow my assailants' scents. She will lead us straight to them." Ruby then spoke, "What about me?! My nose is just as good as hers!" Ashton grumbled, "I don't want to endanger anyone else. You are to remain here until I return." But Cassandra cried out, "Lord Ashton..." He then shouted, "That's an order!"

The seven servants stood silently at Ashton's command. But soon, Aurora took a step forward. "Aurora... Do you defy me?" Ashton said with a hint of fake malice in his voice. The Suicune nodded, "Yes. I defy your order, but I do not defy you. It is the same with all of us. We want to stay with you on this mission. To insure you return safely." She then walked right up to him and spoke, " lord. Allow us to escort you. We are capable of defending ourselves. We will not hinder your progress." Ashton sighed, "Very well. If you are dead set on staying with me, then so be it. Just be aware that our lives will be at stake here. One mistake could be your last." Laura screamed, "Don't worry about a thing, Ashton! We'll watch your back!"

The seven ladies walked past the town gates towards their master. But before Serenade could cross the border, Ashton threw up an arm, "No, sister. You wait here." But Serenade pressed on, "Ashton, I can carry my own weight. I won't be a burden." But Ashton shook his head, "As much as I want you to be at my side, I'm all too aware of your handicap. If you can't use psychic force, you won't be able to defend yourself. You'll only get yourself hurt. Or worse. You must stay here. Otherwise, you'll only..." But Serenade's face turned a slight red and she screamed, "ASHTON REDFORD CRIMSON!!! I AM COMING WITH YOU AND THAT IS FINAL!!!" Ashton froze in terror at his sister's outburst. Ruby whispered, "Whoa.... Who knew Lady Serenade could be so scary?" Chiara giggled, "She doesn't do that very often. She only uses his full name like that when she wants to get her point across." Ashton groaned, "I really hate it when you call me that..." But the Gardevoir gently set a hand on his shoulder, "Ashton. I promise I will not be a burden. I have developed a new combat style since arriving in the Far East. If I was the same Gardevoir I was when we arrived here, yes. I would stay behind without question. But I know I can defend myself and you." Ashton sighed as he gazed into her red eyes, "Very well. If you are so certain you can help this mission succeed, then please come along."

Ashton led the ladies a little further away from the town before he and Koga jumped up onto some thick tree branches. "Come on! We have to move swiftly through the trees to avoid any ground traps!" Chiara, Laura, and Ruby made their way up to them without a problem, and Serenade used telekinesis to levitate herself up to her brother, but the others simply looked up at them with a nervous gaze. Koga called down, "Don't worry. Jumping from branch to branch is easier than it sounds!" But Zandria called back, "That's not the problem! Just how are we supposed to get up there?! Wha?!" To her shock, Zandria found herself floating upwards on her own! Once she was standing on a tree branch, Chiara asked, "Better?" But being Dark types, Laika and Cassandra were out of luck. But Ashton and Koga jumped down to them and simply carried them up to the branches. "What about me?!" Aurora called up from the ground. "Um, yes. I fear you may be too large for this. You might not be able to leap from branch to branch without your feet slipping." Aurora nodded, "I see. I suppose I could follow your scent. I won't fall behind!" Ashton smiled, "Well said. Which way, Laika?" The Mightyena sniffed the air, "To the west." Following the Mightyena, the squad made their way to the west through the trees while Aurora stayed right under them.

After several minutes of following Laika's lead, Ashton frowned, "It's too quiet. I was expecting an ambush by now." He then turned to Ruby, who was trying to stay near him as they leapt through the trees. "Ruby, could you try searching for the Aura of any possible enemies?" She nodded and closed her eyes as she searched for Aura signatures. A moment later, she spoke, "There's thirty of them coming up from behind!" Aurora called up to them, "Thirty?!" Koga nodded, "They will most likely break off into groups of three to take on the ten of us." But Ashton shook his head, "You and I may be able to take on three at once, but some of us can't! Let's face them together!"

As their pursuers closed in, Ashton signaled for them to slow down. "We don't have the kind of experience for a duel while on the move! Let's stop and face them here!" At that moment, they stopped and turned to face their enemies. But it took longer than they expected for them to arrive. Zandria tapped her foot impatiently, "If they're gonna attack, what's holding them up?!" But a voice replied, "We were taking our time because we decided to surround you!" Zandria got a startled look on her face as she looked around. Positioned on tree branches were precisely thirty masked shinobi.

Ashton looked around, "Ten against thirty. If we're careful, we may get by this." But one of the shinobi replied, "Actually, we did not come here to fight, Lord Ashton of Green Mile." Koga then asked, "If you did not come here to stop us, then what is your plan?" The shinobi replied, "We have only one last duty to perform. The High Priest will handle the final steps of the resurrection." With that, all of the shinobi pulled open their shirts to reveal a mass of paper bombs attached to them.

"Oh no..." Ashton gulped as his face turned pale. "Farewell, Lord Ashton!" The paper bombs began to glow as they were about to detonate. Out of desperation, Ashton screamed, "EVERYONE, DIVE!" As the paper bombs engulfed the treetops in a massive explosion, Ashton and his allies jumped from the branches and fell into a freefall to the ground. But it was too long of a drop. As Aurora looked up in shock at the explosion and the sight of her comrades falling towards her, she unleashed a powerful Gust to slow their fall, causing them to land quite gently.

After catching their breath from the near death experience, Laura growled, "Why do they keep blowing themselves up?!" Aurora also complained, "I can't understand it either. It's as if they have no regard for their own lives." But Koga nodded, "Perhaps they don't. After all, that captured shinobi claimed that only their goal is important to them." Ashton then asked, "But why so many at one time?" Koga brought a hand to his chin, "The more shinobi, the more paper bombs that could be used. I wouldn't be surprised if those thirty shinobi were the last remaining members of this cult. They threw everything they had at us, as an explosion from that many paper bombs would be extremely difficult to escape from." Ashton then added, "Not quite all of them. Their leader still remains. And I'm certain that he will do whatever it takes to survive long enough to complete his objectives." But then Laika snorted, "Ugh... What a stench..."

Ruby walked over to Laika and asked, "Something wrong, Lady Laika?" The Mightyena groaned, "Smells like we're near a pile of corpses. It smells like rotting flesh." Ruby frowned, "Strange. Those guys must've been destroyed by that explosion." She then searched for more Aura signatures. But all she saw were the Auras of her companions. "Doesn't look like there's anyone out there." But just then, a faint shuffling sound could be heard as something moved through the underbrush towards them. Serenade brought a hand to her face, "I can smell it now... Whatever that stench is coming from must be getting closer."

The ten companions stood at the ready for whatever might come at them. But soon, an army of humans emerged from the forest around them. They seemed to be a ragtag group, comprised of shinobi, soldiers, and various other types of fighters. But Ruby checked for other Aura signatures again. She then shrieked, "What is this?! I can't sense their Auras at all!" Koga then replied, "That's because they do not have any! Take a closer look!" Every single being that stood before the group had dull complexions and blank expressions. They almost resembled dried-out corpses. "These are most likely Ninja Art Cadaver Puppets. Think of them as being reanimated corpses having been restored to the point where they can fully function the way they could in life. They feel no pain and are completely mindless. And the process of creating one is a strictly forbidden art." Cassandra groaned, "Corpses? No wonder they smell so bad."

Ashton grabbed the Flamberge by the hilt and brought it to his side. "Corpses or not, they can't harm us if they can't control their limbs." But just then, the Cadaver Puppets began to shuffle to the sides as if making a path for someone. The sound of armor clanking could be heard as something approached them. Once the being stood before the pack of corpses, Ashton nearly dropped his weapon in utter disbelief at the sight of what stood before him. In its hand was an Ahlspiess spear, its blade somewhat rusty from being exposed to the elements for too long. "Impossible..... YOU?!"

Ruby felt rage building up inside her as she glared at the reanimated body of Lance. Like the other Cadaver Puppets, he was silent and soulless. "How can you still be alive?! I made sure you were dead!" But Ashton replied, "Don't bother, Ruby. This may be Lance's body, but his soul is gone. It's just an empty shell." The Cadaver Puppets then began to approach their prey, but the corpse of Lance stood where it was. Ashton called out, "The rest of you handle the others! Lance is mine and mine alone!" The body of Lance then gave a hand single that seemed to tell the other Cadaver Puppets that Ashton was his opponent and not theirs. Koga then spoke, "Once you're done here, help us out with these!" He, along with the ladies, ran off into the woods with the other Cadaver Puppets close behind. Ashton then gripped the Flamberge tightly, "It is time I finish what I started, you traitor! I don't care if you're just a puppet or not! I will tear you apart for enslaving such a gentle creature!" Lance simply took his spear in both hands and stood at the ready.

Koga came to a stop and drew both tanto swords, one in each hand. "Now, let them come!" One of the Cadaver Puppets came at him with a katana sword and tried to catch him with an overhead swing. But Koga sidestepped the slash and cleaved the body in two at the waist. "Although just as dangerous as if they were still living, they are somewhat fragile." Numerous Cadaver Puppets came at him then, but he performed quick slices with his swords at speeds that almost no one could track.

Zandria extended the claws from her right hand, "OK, bring it, you piles of rotten meat!" The speedy Zangoose dashed past one of the puppets and sliced a leg off before doing the same to its arms. Another puppet tried to get her with a spear, but Zandria ducked it and thrust her claws up, catching the pole between her claws. With a twist of her hand, she pulled the weapon from its wielder's hands. She then impaled the puppet and slashed it with her claws. But it was then she noticed that the spear was actually more of a halberd. "Nice. I always was more for cutting than skewering." She then gave a swing at some approaching puppets, cleaving their heads from their bodies.

Cassandra danced her way around incoming attacks with her lithe body. While evading, she slashed away at her foes with the curved blade on the side of her head. "Wait... If I can use Razor Wind to make bush sculptures..." She then got some distance from her enemies and raised her head. "Here it comes!" She then gave a hard swing with her head, creating a powerful gust. She watched in awe as the Razor Wind sliced away at the Cadaver Puppets, effectively reducing them to mulch. "I wonder if they would make good fertilizer..... No way! I can't stand the smell, so forget about touching it!"

Ruby came at her foes with brute strength. Her powerful blows tore away at their weak flesh with little resistance. "I'm not a weakling! I must fight for Ashton's sake!" She crushed the skull of one puppet with a heel drop, then leapt from the body before it could fall towards another puppet and liquefied it with a Force Palm. "It turned into mush? Are they really that frail?" But when she heard more Cadaver Puppets coming at her from behind, Ruby turned and launched a mighty Aura Sphere at them. As the wave of Aura engulfed them, the Cadaver Puppets were reduced to dust by the sheer intensity of the blast. "Yeah! Keep them coming! We Lucario are at our best on the battlefield!" Ruby shouted as she stood on one foot while beckoning the other corpses to attack her.

Serenade used her new taijutsu skills to direct her opponent's attacks away from her. Never moving from her position, she lured her opponents close and then sent them crashing into the great trees around them with a powerful thrust from her palm. "I will not be a burden to my brother! I will not falter!" But after sending another Cadaver Puppet crashing through a tree, she saw another puppet swinging a kusarigama, a sickle with a chain attached that ended with a heavy iron orb. The puppet then sent the heavy ball flying straight at Serenade's head, but she held up a hand and caught the ball with psychic force just before it could actually touch her. She then sent it flying back at the puppet, creating a large hole through its torso as it shot right through it. She then noticed a large rock that was near her feet and levitated it up in front of her. Then, with a telekinetic pulse, she shattered the rock into countless fragments. The pebbles shot through the air at nearly supersonic speed, making the Cadaver Puppets around her look like Swiss cheese as they tore through their bodes, leaving countless little holes in them.

Laika tore away at her foes with great primal fury as her undying grudge against humanity guided her. Although no longer alive, her enemies were still humans and to her, they were her sworn enemies. With a look in her eyes that could kill, she leapt onto her opponents and tore large chunks out of their heads with her fangs, oblivious to the foul taste. But at times when they were about to overwhelm her in sheer numbers, Laika would dart away and create a large opening by blasting the gathered corpses with a Shadow Ball, destroying a number of them while scattering the rest.

"Can't catch me!" Laura shouted as she darted through the trees while making her foes waste their arrows. Some of her enemies were armed with crossbows. But the tricky Latias would sometimes charge right through the enemy ranks with a Zen Headbutt, bowling them over. She would also send out a flurry of Mist Balls, breaking them to pieces from the force of the blast. "Wow, you things are really lame! I know the dead don't walk, but you can't fight either!" Of course, Laura's jeering had no affect on the Cadaver Puppets as they had no mind to process her words. But this did not stop them from trying to get to her.

Chiara sent countless Cadaver Puppets soaring with the deadly Aeroblast. Those that were struck directly were even torn to shreds by the hurricane-force winds that it created. "You're nothing more than pitiful piles of earth! How can you harm me when you can't even touch me?!" Her eyes then glowed a light blue as some of the puppets froze in their tracks. Moving her fingers like those of a puppet master, the midget Lugia made some of the Cadaver Puppets turn their weapons on their allies. "This should be fun. Time to put their minds to good use. That is, if they have any."

Aurora sent wave after wave of water crashing against the Cadaver Puppets that stood before her. But while some were crushed by the crashing waves, most were left virtually unscathed. "This calls for a different approach." She then looked up and shot a torrent of water upwards. She then followed up with an Ice Beam that froze the water into countless icicles. As they fell back to the ground, she closed her eyes. "I'm not used to this, but if I can just..." Before the icicles could hit the ground, they stopped and hovered in midair. "Now....." Using the rare move known as Extrasensory, she sent the many icicles into the Cadaver Puppets like a shower of throwing knives. Rows of them fell as they were skewered by the barrage of cold needles. Aurora smiled, "I'll have to remember that one."

Ashton let out a yell as he swung the Flameberge at Lance, who blocked the blow with his spear. The fallen knight then made a low sweep with the blade, but Ashton jumped it and even kicked his former mentor in the face. But the corpse hardly flinched as it was pushed away by the impact. "It's true. You feel no pain at all." Ashton grumbled as the Cadaver Puppet charged Ashton with its Ahlspiess spear out in front of it. But the viscount shouted, "Forget it! I'm not holding back on you at all this time!" He then made a few hand signs and gripped the Flamberge with both hands as he turned the blade sideways. "Wind Style!" He then gave a hard horizontal swing, "Cyclone Scythe Jutsu!" A powerful blast of air sent Lance flying backwards and crashing into a tree as a number of trees around him were sliced in two. But as the towering trees fell toward Lance, the knight stood up and began to swing its spear around so that the blade would strike the trees. To Ashton's shock, each slice cleaved the trees in two, causing the pieces to fall past it. "That spear may seem rusty, but it's even sharper than I remember. It must be just as sharp and durable as the Flamberge."

During his battle against the Cadaver Puppets, Koga became separated from the ladies. The veteran shinobi made quick work of his targets as they could not even touch him. "Come now! Is this the best the dead can offer?!" But a moment later, Koga heard a deep voice call out, "Katon!" Koga then turned to face a long row of Cadaver Puppets, "Katon? That's...!" The voice then called out, "Goukakyuu no Jutsu!" At that instant, a massive wall of fire came blazing towards Koga, engulfing the Cadaver Puppets in its path! "Need to be quick!" Koga made a few hand signs and placed both hands on the ground, "Earth Style: Terra Shield!" As he finished the call, a wall of stone shot up in front of him, blocking the flames as they roared past him.

Once the flames stopped coming, Koga cancelled the jutsu, causing the wall to retract into the ground. He looked ahead at the burning remains of the Cadaver Puppets. Not one was left standing. But he then saw a lone Cadaver Puppet approach him. Its skin tone and expression was no different from the rest. But when Koga saw the eyes, he froze. "Those eyes..... You're a...!" The eyes were blood red with three black tomoe symbols apart from each other like the points of a triangle with a black dot in the center. "I never imagined that I would face off against a wielder of the Sharingan. So this one is an Uchiha." Koga widened his stance and gripped the hilts of his swords. "My level of genjutsu will be useless against this opponent if the rumors I've heard are true. I'll just have to use whatever I can."

The revived Uchiha charged Koga with great speed that was befitting a shinobi. Koga answered in kind and met his foe with swords drawn. The Uchiha countered with a pair of kunai and they began to lash out with strikes from their weapon. A shower of sparks illuminated the darkness with each clash of their weapons. (The rumors are true. The Uchiha are indeed fearsome in combat.) Once Koga got some distance with a quick leap backwards, he made a few hand signs and shouted, "Earth Style: Earth Dragon Bomb!" As he said that, a large dragon head composed of the very ground itself rose up in front of him and opened its jaws. It then fired a barrage of hardened earth at the Uchiha. But the Uchiha performed the exact same technique and countered the attack, cancelling out the jutsu. "He matched my hand signs perfectly! So this is the power of the Sharingan!" Koga grumbled, "Even ninjutsu is useless. He would just copy my hand signs to cancel out my attack with his own. That only leaves taijutsu." Taking a firm stance, Koga drew one sword while keeping the other sheathed. "Come at me, master of the Sharingan!"

Ashton was making little progress against Lance as his spear was more durable than before, rendering all attempts to shatter it useless. "No matter how hard I hit it, that lance just won't break!" Ashton growled as he started to feel tired out from the fight. But being a corpse, Lance could not feel the strain of battle. Ashton roared and took several swings at his former mentor, who countered each strike with one of his own, sending the Flamberge away by striking the blade with his own.

Ashton wheezed, "I can't keep this up forever. But there must be something that will work!" He then jumped backwards and placed the Flamberge on his back. (Come on, take the bait.) Ashton gulped as he waited to see if Lance would attack while he was unarmed. Sure enough, Lance charged the viscount with the head of his spear pointing at Ashton. But as Lance closed in, Ashton took a deep breath and then let out a roar as an immense stream of fire erupted from his mouth! Lance had no way of anticipating the attack and was blown backwards and pinned to a tree by the sheer force of the flames. Ashton did not let up and continued blasting the Cadaver Puppet with his Fire Style jutsu.

After a moment of frying his enemy, Ashton took a breather. Lance was now engulfed in flames, but did not seem to be feeling any pain. "I doubt you know this, but since I can create fire at will, I don't need to waste my time making hand signs to perform Fire Style ninjutsu. And it conserves Chakra too. What I just got you with was a Dragon Flame Bomb. Now to wrap things up." Taking the Flamberge in both hands, Ashton made a dash towards his former mentor. "It ends here, traitor!" But as Ashton closed in, the burning body of Lance held up its spear, but only held it at the side. Ashton pushed on, and then impaled the undead knight on his blade. But he stood ready for a possible counterattack. But when he pulled the blade out, the body only dropped to its knees and fell flat on its face. Ashton breathed a sigh of relief, "Rest in pieces. Now to find Master Koga."

Koga was having quite a hard time getting through the Uchiha's defenses as it could watch his movements with ease. "It's no good. I'm just not fast enough. I knew the Uchiha are mighty.....but this..." But a voice called out, "Are you well, Koga-sensei?!" The shinobi turned to face his former student, who came bursting out of the trees. "I dealt with Lance. How are you holding up?" Koga simply pointed, "Not well. This Cadaver Puppet is a former Uchiha, the wielders of the Sharingan. Genjutsu and ninjutsu are useless against it. They would just read your hand signs and use the same jutsu to counter yours." But Ashton chuckled, "What hand signs?" He then turned to the Uchiha and surprised them both with a Dragon Flame Bomb.

The Uchiha showed a tiny hint of shock as it made a desperate dive to the sides to evade the blast of flames. Koga turned to his former student, "Ashton! How did you...?!" Ashton smiled, "I can use Fire Style ninjutsu without using Chakra! Just don't ask me how!" Koga then smirked, "I see. Well then, care to back me up? Create a diversion and I'll handle the rest." Ashton nodded, "Yes, master!" He then made a dash for the Uchiha, who stood ready for a frontal assault. But Ashton then jumped above him and fired a Phoenix Flower down at him, creating a ring of fire around the Uchiha. Unable to see through the flames, the Uchiha looked around frantically.

Koga made a hand sign as he gripped both swords. Two flickering copies of him appeared at his side while making the same pose. And then, he vanished. A few seconds later, something shot through the wall of flames from three angles and struck the Uchiha simultaneously. At that point, the three assailants leapt skyward and came down upon the stunned Uchiha. With a crash, the three figures brought their swords down through the Uchiha's body all the way down to its feet. A few seconds later, the Cadaver Puppet split into several ribbon-like pieces. The other two figures vanished as the real Koga sheathed both swords, breathing a sigh of satisfaction.

Ashton walked over to his master as the flames surrounding him died out. "What in the world do you call that move?" Koga smiled, "It's something I developed on my own. I call it the Delta Strike." Ashton smiled, "Impressive. There's no way I could ever pull it off. But let's head back to that clearing. It sounds like the battle has ended."

Ashton and Koga made their way back to the clearing where Lance's body now rested. Waiting for them were all eight of Ashton's servants. Ashton asked, "Are you all well?" Cassandra nodded, "Yes. Those things were rather fragile. They were pretty easy to break." Ashton smiled, "Glad to hear it. But before we move on, I need just a moment." He then walked over to the scorched body of Lance. He looked it over carefully. "Hm, I'd say it's done." But when he turned to face his companions, Ashton froze when he felt something grab his ankle. He looked down at the Cadaver Puppet as it slowly looked up at him. But as he was about to grab the Flamberge, it spoke. "Ash...ton..."

Despite the knowledge of what Lance had attempted in Rohta, Ashton could not help but feel a sense of longing as he saw Lance give him a most kindly gaze. "Captain?" The fallen hero smiled, "You...have come far. I thank you for freeing me from that dreadful spell." Ashton kneeled down to his mentor as his servants silently watched. "Yes... I have no intention of harming you now. My time has passed. You have soared higher than I ever could have reached. I am proud to have played a part in your growth." Ashton could feel tears building in his eyes, "Captain..."

Lance sighed, "Ashton, there is something I must tell you. And I must say it now. This reanimated corpse of mine is already on the verge of being reduced to a pile of dust." Ashton listened, "Go on. I'm all ears." Lance's tone then became one of extreme seriousness. "There is something you must know.....about the final moments of my life. That little Lucario of yours...... She was not the one who dealt the final blow." Ashton asked, "Ruby? She didn't...?" Lance nodded, "That attack she blasted me with gravely wounded me, but I survived. I ended up in the forests to the east. But as I rested my body, someone....or rather, something...found me."

Ashton asked, "Something?" Lance nodded, "Yes. Something that seemed to resemble a hulking knight, wielding a sword not that much unlike your own. It was dark, so I could not make it out very well. But I am certain that whatever that beast was, it most definitely was not human." Lance continued, "I don't know how, but it extracted my soul, my very being, from my still-living body. And I watched as my own body was impaled by that beast's sword before it was tossed aside like a ragdoll. I then found myself in a bizarre realm. And there..." Lance shuddered as he continued, "I saw them. Thousands upon thousands of souls! Perhaps millions! They were all screaming for salvation. To be released from this prison. Whatever that beast was, it devoured my very soul, and I was now residing in some sort of demonic prison! And yet....." Lance calmed down slightly, "Whoever cast that spell that returned me to this realm extracted my soul from that prison. I was rescued from that hell. And when this body gives out, I will move on to a true afterlife."

Ashton asked, "Why are you telling me this?" Lance then replied, "You, more than anyone, know that Pokémon have souls like we do." Ashton's eyes went wide with fear as he understood what Lance meant. "Yes, you get it now. If that thing feeds on the souls of the living, then it is only a matter of time before it targets the Pokémon that reside in the kingdom of Rohta." Lance then tightly gripped Ashton's hand, "Promise me... Promise me that you will protect them from that monster! Do not allow that demon to make the Pokémon of Rohta suffer anymore than they already have!" But Ashton asked, "And what about the humans of Rohta?" Lance scowled, "It does not matter to me. They can all rot, for all I care. I still stand by my actions. But..." Lance then gave Ashton a pleading gaze, "Do not let that beast take another soul. No matter what it takes, find and destroy it!" At that point, Lance's body began to crumble to dust. "Promise me..... You are the hope of the Pokémon of Rohta..."

Ashton silently watched as his mentor disappeared for the last time. "I see. So that is why you did not strike me when I dealt the final blow a little while ago. You wanted me to live on for them. To protect them." He then stood up, "Thank you, Captain. I will find that monster. And I will slay it with my own hands." He then turned to face his companions, "Let's move on."

A short while later, Laika led her companions out of the forest and into a vast open meadow that was being bathed in the moonlight. Laika spoke, "The scent is a bit fainter here. This must be where it originates from." Ruby then tried to sense any Aura signatures. "There's someone up ahead. And it's alone." With caution, they pressed on.

The ten companions continued on until they came to a shallow valley. And standing at the center was a lone figure. Ashton silently signaled for the others to stay back as he approached the lone figure. Once he was about ten feet from it, he stopped. The person who stood before Ashton had its back turned.

"Excuse me. We are searching for the leader of a mysterious cult. Do you happen to know anything that might point us in the right direction?" But the person began to chuckle in a dark tone. Then, in a quiet and raspy voice, it replied, "The leader, you say?" It then slowly turned to face the viscount. "You're looking right at him." When the two locked eyes, Ashton felt a trickle of cold sweat drip from his brow. As he gazed into the yellow reptilian eyes of the man, he could feel a type of malevolence that was completely alien to him. He had very pale skin and had slender purple markings just above his eyes that trailed down below them toward the center of his face. He wore an elegant white robe that seemed befitting of a holy man and had long black hair.

"Ashton of Green Mile. I welcome you to the Far East. And with your aid, we will bring humanity to its knees."
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