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.

The Will to Defy Death

In the kingdom of Rohta, it was now midday. Deep in the Viridian Forest, Siegfried chopped some firewood with his elbow blades. He then heard his wife approaching from behind. "Starlet, how much more wood do you think we need?" The Gardevoir giggled, "To be honest, we've had enough to get through winter for several months now!" She then looked over her husband's blue colorations. "Every now and then, I mistake your blue areas for the sky." The Gallade laughed, "You think so? When I see my reflection in water, I sometimes don't see myself for a moment!"

After gathering up the firewood and placing it in a neat pile near their cottage, Siegfried turned to face his lover. "It's past noon. What do you say I head into town and grab some roast duck?" But he then noticed his wife staring up at the sky with a worried expression. "Starlet?" The Gallade walked over to her and rested a hand on her shoulder. "Is something troubling you?" She replied, "I can't describe it... I feel a terrible sense of dread... Like somewhere out there, he..." Siegfried asked, "You mean our children, right?" But Starlet shook her head, "I'm certain that Serenade is fine. It's Ashton I fear for. At this very moment, I can't shake the feeling that he is on the verge of death."

Siegfried wrapped his arms around his beloved, "I miss him too. Even though we are not the same species, I always viewed him as my own flesh and blood. We'll see him again. Don't lose faith in him." Starlet sighed, "I know, and I try to have faith in him. He will always be my little boy." She then grabbed the peridot that hung around her neck by a silk thread. "My most precious keepsake. I can never forget him as long as I wear this." But when she let go of it and allowed it to rest against her chest, the silk thread suddenly snapped without warning, sending the precious gem falling to the ground. Both Starlet and Siegfried were alarmed. That thread had never shown any signs of weakness before. When Siegfried picked it up, he found that a deep crack had formed in the gemstone, even though the impact with the ground was very light. He looked at Starlet, tears beginning to form in his eyes. Starlet could see what he was trying to tell her, even though he could not bring himself to say it. Silently, the couple embraced each other, fearing that their beloved son was now standing at death's door.

Deep in the Black Woods, Sabrina was putting the finishing touches on a potion in a vial. "One teaspoon. No more, no less..." A moment later she sighed in contentment. "Success." She carefully examined the vial that contained the potion. It was the renowned Heaven's Mercy. "I wonder what Ashton is up to..." The psychic set the vial in a chest filled with other potions of varying colors that were neatly sorted and headed upstairs in her home. She removed her hood, allowing her gorgeous long black hair to flow down her back. She took a seat at a table. Atop the table was a glistening crystal ball.

"It has been well over two or more months since I last heard from him. Where are you, Ashton?" She held her hands just over the orb. Soon, she could see what seemed to Ashton in a dark blue ninja's outfit. "That attire..... Is he in the Far East?" But a moment later, the view became shrouded in what seemed to be a black void. "Hm? What is this?" But just then, bolts of dark lightning began to shoot out from the crystal orb as a black aura seemed to emanate from it. Glass vials all around the room shattered as Sabrina let out a shriek of fright. "Must...suppress..." A faint glow surrounded her as she exerted her psychic powers to their fullest as she pressed her hands against the orb. The bolts of lightning began to shrink. And soon, they stopped entirely as the usual calm filled her home again. Sabrina breathed a sigh of relief, "Such a sinister presence. Ashton..... What has happened to you?"

Under the midnight sky, the Yamata no Orochi stood before Ashton and the spirit of death itself. Now with a truly frightful power at his disposal, Ashton was almost giddy with confidence. "What's wrong, Orochi?! Just a minute ago, you seemed so sure of yourself! Now you're cowering like a frightened child! What's come over you?!" The towering serpent shouted, "Frightened child?! You are the one who should be frightened, you reckless fool! Do you have any idea what you have done to yourself?!" Ashton smirked, "Yes, but at least I won't disappear alone. I'm taking you with me!"

At the sidelines, Ruby turned to Koga, "Master Koga, what does the Orochi mean? What has Lord Ashton done to himself?" But the wise old shinobi sighed, "You do not need to know." But the normally silent Laika demanded, "Tell us! Is he in danger?!" Koga looked down and frowned, "There is nothing we can save him now." Laura then asked, "You mean the Orochi is going to kill him?!" But Koga shook his head, "No. Ashton has a great advantage over Orochi now. The chances of that beast slaying him are very unlikely now." Ruby then asked, "But...what do you mean? If Orochi isn't the threat, then what is?" Koga then pointed to the ghastly form that floated behind Ashton.

Cassandra gasped, "The spirit of death?! But Ashton is the one who summoned it! Why would it try to harm him?!" Koga explained, "The powers of death are not meant to be wielded by humanity. To prevent the one who summons it from misusing its power, the spirit of death....." At this point, tears began to fall from his face, "I... I just can't say it..." Zandria demanded, "Is he going to die?" Koga choked, "Worse..." He then looked over at his former student, "Watch him closely. You are now witnessing this world's greatest hero's final deed."

Ashton gazed up at Orochi with a cocky smile, "That look on your faces. Absolutely priceless!" But the Orochi shouted, "Ashton, stop and think about this! If you follow-through with this, you will suffer a fate worse than death! If you dispel the summoning now, you will be saved! It's not too late!" But the viscount glared at him, "If I use the powers of death, I will die. If I do not, I will still die and who knows how many others will perish afterwards. Better for it to be just me than everyone else in the world." The Orochi scowled, "So be it. I'll just have to kill you first!"

Ashton chuckled for a moment, "You? Kill ME? Forget it." He then pointed at Orochi, "Shinigami! Show this vile beast the face of death the people of my land are most familiar with!" At his command, the white robe of the spirit of death began to turn a dull brown as its horns and red beads began to disappear. As its hair fell out, Shinigami took its sword out of its mouth and held it in its right hand. After that, its purple skin began to vaporize in a stream of spectral mist as its bones became visible. A moment later, a transparent skeleton floated behind Ashton while clothed in a hooded brown cloak while Ashton's soul was now contained inside its ribcage like a tiny prison cell. Soon, the sword in its bony right hand began to change shape as the hilt became longer and the blade became curved. A moment later, Shinigami, or rather the Grim Reaper, held its trademark scythe in its right hand. "This is the form my people know as the face of death. Allow me to introduce you to the Grim Reaper."

Orochi gasped in shock and fright at the new undead form of the spirit of death. " what death looks like in the Far West?!" Ashton shook his head, "No. Death is universal. Shinigami. The Grim Reaper. They are one in the same." But he then raised his right hand high above his head. "Lord of Death, grant me your strength for this final duel." To the shock of everyone around him, the Grim Reaper slowly lowered its right hand until it was just above Ashton's. It then released the scythe, allowing it to float within reach of Ashton's hand. The instant he gripped the staff of the scythe, a dark ominous presence emanated from the foul weapon as it became solid, making everyone nearby feel as if a diabolical curse had fallen over the land. Chiara gasped, " now in possession of the Grim Reaper's own scythe?!" Koga nodded, "The very tool the spirit of death uses to reap the souls of the living." But that was not all. A moment after taking the scythe in hand, Ashton's wings began to turn black, starting from where they extended from his back. The black coloration crept over his wings until it reached the tips. The wings of flames no longer looked like flames at all, but rather a pair of solid wings, like the wings of a raven. Ashton then thrust the staff of the scythe into the ground, "This is the weapon that reaps the souls of the living. I now hold the death scythe, Thanatos!"

Orochi shuddered in fright at the sight of the only weapon in existence that could kill him without him allowing it to. "You..... You think I am weak, don't you?! It does not matter that you wield Thanatos! I will still bring this world under my rule! Even if you have the power of death at your fingertips, it will not make a difference as long as I kill you first!" Ashton then coldly stared at Orochi, black feathers falling from his wings. "Sure, keep telling yourself that." He then threw an arm up to his left as he looked over at his nine allies. "This one is mine. Get to safety." He then lifted the staff of the scythe up slightly before jamming it hard into the ground. At that instant, the deep blue night sky became a sea of inky blackness as even the clouds and moon could not be seen. Like whispers on the wind, the screams of the dead could be heard wailing beyond the realm of the living. "You hear them, Orochi? Soon, you shall join them."

The great serpent screamed, "Enough of your big talk! You are my prey!" At this, one of the eight heads of Orochi lunged down at Ashton with gaping jaws. "That move is getting really old." Ashton dodged the strike by leaping straight up into the air with a flap of his sable wings as Thanatos was enshrouded with a dark aura that strongly resembled black flames. The Angel of the Eternal Flame soared higher and higher as the other seven heads tried to snap him up in their jaws. But when he knew they were gaining on him Ashton turned around and spoke, "Fire Style: Phoenix Flower!" A flurry of fireballs was launched at the seven heads of Orochi. But this time, they were a sinister black instead of fiery orange. Upon being struck with the black flames, the Orochi let out a screech as the flames quickly spread over its scales.

"This kind of power is almost frightening. I can see why the price is so steep for a mortal to summon death itself." Ashton said aloud as he watched the Orochi writhe in agony as the black flames engulfed him. But a second later, all eight heads shouted, "Demon Art: Unholy Salvation!" At that instant, the flames vanished as a dark purple mist engulfed the burning areas. "Not bad at all, Ashton of Green Mile! I am most certainly not disappointed! But you'll have to do better than that!" Ashton then smirked, "So I see." He then reached back with Thanatos in his right hand, and then sent the scythe flying through the air as it spun like a circular saw. Ashton then flew around the Orochi to intercept it at some point. As the blade sliced through their necks, the Orochi felt as if something was sapping their strength as if the blade was not solid. It was as if it was cutting out chunks of their very soul.

After slashing through seven of its heads, the blade of Thanatos became lodged in the neck of the eighth head. "Why is it so cold?!" But Ashton then grabbed the staff and smirked, "Because your soul is now mine." With a ripping slash, he dislodged the scythe from the scales of Orochi. But to the serpent's horror, he saw a spectral blue trail of mist stuck to the blade. "As I said, your soul is now mine!" Ashton then flew upwards as the scythe began to pull the soul of Orochi out of its still-living body. "No, stop! Give it....." But when the soul of the head of Orochi was pulled from its host, the Orochi from the neck up froze in place as if being held by an unseen force. The soul was then absorbed into the dark blade of Thanatos for safekeeping. "One down, seven to go."

As the other seven heads looked on, they struggled to make the immobile head move, but to no avail. "You..... What have you done to me?!" Ashton smirked, "I have just reaped your soul. Well, part of it anyway." The Orochi shrieked, "You beast! Just what is it you're trying to do?!" Ashton then frowned, "Pretty obvious, isn't it? I'm removing your soul from this realm. The only reason why you were resurrected was because your soul could still be drawn back." But the Orochi laughed, "You don't understand death at all! The spirit of death can send my soul to the great beyond, but it cannot lock it away!" But Ashton gave him a sneaky stare, "Yes, it can't. But only because it is duty-bound to do so. I, on the other hand, do not have a contract with any higher power. I am an independent knight. And I will send you wherever I decide."

The Orochi cackled, "So I see. Seems you are a much greater threat than I imagined. But now that I know what you are capable of, I will make sure you don't take anymore parts of my soul." To insure that Ashton would not leave its sight, the Orochi positioned its heads in a way that left each head facing a different direction. "If you try to get in a cheap shot from behind, I will be ready to defend myself." Ashton grunted, "That's assuming you can catch me." He then flew at high speed past the heads and threw Thanatos into the neck of one of them. As he flew in to retrieve it and another part of Orochi's soul, five of the heads tried to devour and strike him with their broad faces. But he failed to notice the seventh head was gathering demonic energy in its mouth. The instant Ashton grabbed the staff of Thanatos, the seventh head shouted, "Demon Art..." Ashton's face went blank, "Oh great..." Out of time, he simply took the scythe in hand and flew away as quickly as his sable wings could carry him. "Final Breath of the Doomed!" Although Ashton was able to get away, the massive blast of demonic might engulfed the head of Orochi that the scythe had been embedded into.

"That was close. They were watching me from every angle and had one stay back as a last line of defense. But that strike must've surely have blown that head clean off." But when the smoke cleared, Ashton gasped as the head that had been blasted rose up and let out a yawn. "Honestly, could you at least try a little harder?" Ashton shouted, "What's wrong with you?! That should've at least burned your scales off!" But the Orochi laughed, "Do you really think I would maim myself in an attempt to get rid of one pesky insect?! I cannot be harmed by the power I sold my soul to obtain!" But Ashton looked at the scythe, "But I just hacked out a piece of his soul..... Bah, whatever." He then pondered as he hovered in place, "But if I can't cut its soul from its body one at a time....." He then looked to the distance as his eyes trailed along the eight necks of Orochi. He could not even see where they joined. But a sly smirk came to his face, "I'll just have to take them out all at once!" He then looked over at Orochi and smiled, "Perhaps I can't take you on one at a time. But that doesn't mean you seven are not connected somewhere!" All seven of Orochi's heads that remained conscious gave him a frightened glance, "You know....." Ashton smirked, and then flew off as he followed Orochi's eight necks with the hope that he may find where they connected. But not before Orochi sent his seven heads after him. "I will not let you!"

Ashton flew as fast as he could to stay ahead of the Orochi. But no matter how far he flew, they did not seem to join anywhere. "Feelings like I've been flying for miles. I knew the Orochi was colossal, but this goes beyond anything I could expect! Wait..." He then looked back to see the Orochi slowing down. "Must be getting tired. But why?" But when Ashton looked back ahead, his face lit up at the sight of the eight necks joining into a single mass of scales. "Got it! Now!" Before Ashton could even react, two of Orochi's eight tails were closing in on his sides. "Oh, this is gonna hurt..." A second later, the two tails slammed into each other over Ashton like a pair of hands squashing a fly. They then separated, causing Ashton to drop to the ground like a rock. "Hey.....dat hurt..." The viscount hit the ground relatively softly as his wings acted like a parachute, slowing his fall to a degree.

"Oog..... I've heard of kicking some tail, but never the tail doing the kicking..." Ashton shook his head after the impact knocked him back to his senses. "Now where... SHOOT!!!" Ashton took to the air again with Thanatos in hand as the seven heads of Orochi dove at him along with the eight tails lashing out. With fifteen gargantuan objects trying to bring him down, Ashton was hard-pressed to focus on evasion rather than attack. "Of all things to forget! I never imagined that the Orochi had eight tails as well!" But he could not keep it up forever. After countless evaded strikes, one of Orochi's tails struck Ashton from behind, sending the viscount soaring face first towards the ground. But before he could collide with the ground, one of Orochi's heads intercepted him and sent the viscount flying straight up into the black sky.

Ashton groaned as he stopped rising into the air and flapped his wings to remain aloft. But when he looked down, he gulped at the sight of the seven heads separating and looking directly up at him. Their crimson eyes began to glow as what seemed to be a deformed heptagram began to form between them like a seven-pointed star of red rays of light. One by one, the seven heads spoke, "Lust. Gluttony. Greed. Sloth. Wrath. Envy. Pride." As they finished their chant, the eyes of the seven heads lit up like torches! "Demon Art: Seven Original Sins!" An instant later, rays of unholy red light shot forth from the eyes of Orochi and converged at the point where they collided with Ashton. It happened so quickly, Ashton felt them strike him the instant he blinked upon the second Orochi finished the incantation. The seven rays of light burned through Ashton like a laser, a searing pain engulfing his body. A bloodcurdling scream erupted from his lungs, like his very insides were being torn apart.

Ashton weakly hovered in place, his wings barely keeping him aloft. "I'm already as good as dead.... But I can't go just yet. I've got to...hold out..." Ashton then pointed the head of Thanatos downwards towards the Orochi. "Spirits of the dead..... Please grant me your aid. Help me prevent this beast from making the people of this world suffer an untimely demise." At his request, the blade was engulfed in a light blue glow. "Now, attack!" At his command, a shower of spectral lights shot out of the blade and rained down upon the Orochi. As they closed in, Orochi could hear what sounded like screaming as the souls ripped through his body, leaving him numb. "The souls of the dead...?!" During the confusion, Ashton made a nosedive towards the very center of the Orochi's body. Where the heads and tails began. Upon landing, he sank the blade of the scythe into the flesh of Orochi and pulled it out, a bit of his soul stuck on the blade. At this, Orochi noticed. "No... You wouldn't..." Ashton then gave the serpent a harsh glare, "I'm sending you to the one place where you will never be able to be called back from."

In a desperate act, all seven of Orochi's heads lunged for Ashton. But just before they could strike, the viscount leapt upwards and took to the sky, the soul of the dreaded serpent being pulled out of its body. "No... NO!!!!!" The seven heads of Orochi pulled away, but could not escape as his soul was pulled out, the spectral mist creeping up the necks and tails as more and more of it was extracted. Once the entire soul was removed, the massive body of Orochi froze in place. It was not quite dead, yet not quite alive either. It was just a hollow shell.

Ashton flapped his wings hard as he soared into the heavens, the soul of Orochi trailing behind him while demanding the viscount to release him. "You foolish mortal! Just where do you think you're taking me?!" Once the air became thin and chilled, Ashton stopped and threw Thanatos straight up with an underhand toss. "I'm sending you to the one place where your kind belongs." The scythe turned on its side and began to spin, the eight heads of Orochi flailing about like ropes. At that instant, a crimson vortex began to open and expand overhead, reaching as far as the Orochi itself could. "I'm sending you to Oblivion!"

The eight heads of Orochi stared up at the hellish vortex as their spinning came to a stop. They tried to flee, but were bound to the blade of Thanatos. "No, stay back! Don't touch me!" Moans of remorse, hatred, and many other emotions were emitted from the vortex as an uncountable number of ghoulish hands reached out of the vortex and grabbed the soul of Orochi. One by one, the flailing heads were pulled into the vortex. But the last head extended as far as it could until it was just inches from Ashton. It could feel the hands pulling him in. As he glared bitterly at the viscount, Ashton spoke, "Remain the way you are supposed to be." At this, Ashton went into a freefall and fell towards the ground near where the battle had begun. In a final hateful act of defiance, the last head of Orochi opened its mouth wide and let out a horrible screech at Ashton as it was consumed by the vortex. Once the soul of the Yamata no Orochi disappeared from the world, the crimson vortex closed. Ashton flapped his wings as he neared the ground, allowing him to land on his feet. As he looked to the black sky, he caught Thanatos as it fell towards him. He then completed his message to Orochi, "As a forgotten nightmare of this world."

Having completed his task, Ashton's wings began to crumble away in a flurry of black feathers. His red eyes returned to their natural dark color as the scars under his eyes reverted to their previous appearance. The black sky became the familiar pleasant deep blue as the stars and the moon returned and Thanatos disappeared in a plume of black flames. A moment later, a loud cracking sound was heard as the body of Orochi began to turn brown as cracks ran along the surface. Once the body had turned as dull as the earth, the towering body crumbled away as it turned to soil. "It's done..... I have done my duty for my kingdom..." But at that moment, Ashton felt a dreadful sensation as his payment for the assistance of the spirit of death began. His soul was pulled out of the Grim Reaper's ribcage as it floated behind him. It then began to gravitate towards its bony mouth. But as his soul was slowly devoured, Ashton gasped, "No.... Please! Just give me...a little more...time..." Despite its cold nature, the spirit of death listened and his soul stayed where it was. But it was then that Ashton's strength left him and he fell backwards. But before he could hit the ground, he felt a hand grab him. Then another. And another. And yet another. Until he felt five arms gently lower him to the ground. Ashton gazed around him. "You're.....all here..."

Standing around Ashton were his eight servants and his former mentor. "Brother..." Serenade whispered to him, her red eyes pouring tears. Ashton set a hand on her own hand, "I'm not leaving yet, dear sister. It would seem the lord of death feels I deserve to linger just a while longer." But Laura flew up to him and nuzzled his face, tears flowing down her face, "Don't say that! You're coming home with us! You're going to be fine! Serenade will fix you up, Zandria will cook you some homemade chicken soup, and I..." But Ashton placed a finger against her face, "No..... Not this time..." The Latias shuddered, her voice breaking, "Ashy...?" To the horror of his eight servants, the dying viscount whispered, "It is time for me to go...."

Zandria screamed, " way! You're lying! The Ashton I knew would never leave us! You're going to be all right! Do you hear me?! You'll be OK!" The Zangoose ran up to him and held his face, "Look at me! Tell me you're going to be fine! Go on!" But Ashton simply smiled at her as tears began to flow down his face. "Trust me. This hurts me just as much as it hurts you." Cassandra then came over to him, "Ashton..... You're...serious...?" She then looked over at Koga, "Master Koga, what did you mean by....." But the wise old shinobi remained silent as his hands began to tremble. Ashton looked over at him, "Sensei.....what did you tell them...?" But Koga turned away, "I can't look at you right now..... I don't want you to see an old man cry....." The proud ninja then dropped to his knees and quietly sobbed, unable to bring himself to face the student he could not save.

Serenade pressed her hands against Ashton's chest and tried to apply Recover. "Don't move..... I'll heal your wounds, and then we'll get you back to town..." But Ashton gently pushed her hands away, "I appreciate your concern, Serenade, but you're wasting your time..... I'm going to be dead soon..." But Aurora stepped forward, "How can you leave us like this? You! The only human who has ever looked upon us as true equals! How can you just leave us behind?!" But Ashton silently wept, "You don't have to remind me....." The Suicune then noticed that Ashton was crying. "Ashton...?" The viscount sobbed, "I don't want to leave you.... You are my family. And it pains me to know that I will never see you again. But I had no other choice. If I was to slay the Orochi, I needed the power of death itself. If I did not, it would be the same as offering you all to him as a sacrifice. But by summoning the spirit of death to aid me, I was able to seal away that beast in a place that no mortal can reach. But those who summon the spirit of death are doomed to die as soon as the enemy has been dealt with."

Chiara stepped forward, "But...if you die, we will still meet again someday. If we die, we will be reunited with you." But Ashton shook his head, "No. That is not the case." Chiara gasped, "W...what?" Ashton explained, "The price of summoning death itself is heavy. Not only does the spirit of death consume the life of the summoner. It devours the soul as well." Chiara staggered back, "No..." Ashton nodded, "Yes. From then on, the soul of the summoner is contained within the belly of the spirit of death, alone. Isolated, never to rest in peace. So you see, this really is our final farewell." Ruby then sobbed, "How could you do that to yourself?! Why this?!" Ashton whispered, "Better me than the rest of you." But Ruby cried, "That's not what I meant! Why separate yourself from us?! We all live for you!" Ashton whispered, "Say no more. You've cried enough."

Ashton noticed Laika standing at the sidelines. "Laika, come closer. I want to say goodbye to all of you." The white wolf slowly approached her master while trying to keep a straight face. She walked right up next to him and stared at him. Tears had gathered in her eyes, but she was trying hard to hold them in. Ashton then realized that he had hurt Laika more than anyone else. He could see the suffering in her eyes. He slowly brought a hand to her face, caressing her. At his touch, Laika began to tremble violently as she struggled to control herself. But Ashton whispered, "There's no need to hold back now. Just let it out." Laika's eyes then began to pour tears as her ears went flat against her head. She then closed her eyes as she fell upon her master, wailing loudly to the point where she could not even speak. The other seven ladies backed away as they were startled by this show of emotion as they had never seen Laika display such a powerful sense of sorrow. Ashton gently embraced his guardian, "You did not fail me. Do not blame yourself."

Once Laika had cried herself dry, Ashton spoke, "As your master, I hereby grant you all your freedom. My family's estate..... The Crimson now yours. Do as you will with it. I trust you will use it well. Live on and live your lives as you see fit." At that moment, the spirit of death resumed its feast as Ashton's life-force and soul began to be drawn into its mouth. His life waning, Ashton whispered, "Each of you.....truly made my life....worth living... Farewell..." All eight of his servants looked on with tears falling as he closed his eyes forever.

Ruby trembled in disbelief as she watched the man she loved die. She then looked up at the spirit of death as it was about to consume the last of Ashton's soul. But in an act of desperation, she screamed, "NOOOOOO!!!!!" The Lucario leapt at the Grim Reaper and grabbed Ashton's soul before the last bit of it could slide down its throat. Koga and the other seven ladies gasped in shock at Ruby's reckless move as she dangled from the Grim Reaper's mouth. Cassandra stood aghast, "She grabbed his soul?!" Koga explained, "Of course! Lucario are able to manipulate Aura! And since Ashton's Aura has been combined with his soul, she can effectively hold it!" The Lucario pleaded, "Don't take him away from me! I love him! I can't bear the thought of never seeing him again! But if you must have him, take me too!"

The Grim Reaper stopped for a moment, but then began to consume the rest of Ashton's soul as Ruby's soul could be seen as it was extracted from her body. "Thank you.....huh?!" But Serenade grabbed onto the Lucario and pleaded, "No, take me as well! I want to see my brother!" Then Zandria grabbed Ruby's foot, "Me too! I owe that man everything!" Laura then threw her arms around Ruby as she wept, "Don't leave me behind! Ashton is my life! My existence!" One by one, Ashton's eight servants joined in as they desperately sought to join their beloved in the afterlife. But after a moment of loud pleading and weeping from the eight ladies, the Grim Reaper began to disappear. Once it was gone, everyone fell into a heap as there was nothing left to hold them up.

"Are we...dead?" Ruby asked. But Chiara spoke, "Ruby, what's that in your hand?!" The Lucario looked up and gasped to see a large orb of Aura and spectral mist. "Is this...?" Aurora shouted, "Quickly! Over here!" Ruby ran over to Ashton's corpse and jammed the orb into his body. To her surprise, it entered him as if it was not even there. Serenade then pressed an ear to his chest. "Please..... Stay with me, brother." A moment later, she gasped as she heard a heartbeat. Right after that, she heard Ashton mumble, "Sorry, Garyson..... That makes this my 100th win..." Serenade began to sob, "He's alive..."

Laika ran over to her master, "He lives?!" Serenade nodded, "Yes. And his soul is intact." But Ruby asked, "But why? Why did the spirit of death spare him?" At that moment, rain began to fall from the sky. But something was different. The rain was jet black. Like ink. "Black rain....." Aurora whispered, surprised to find that the rain tasted no different than normal. But Koga replied, "Death is weeping..... Your love for Ashton..... Your devotion and adoration for him..... It must have moved it to its very core. Such a miracle has never occurred before. Even death itself could not find the will to destroy such a beautiful love. A love more enduring than any blood bond."

Ashton quietly stirred as he came to. "Is this.....what it's like in the belly of the reaper?" But he was soon greeted by a shriek, "Ashton! You're OK!" Ruby leapt at him as he sat up. "You're OK, aren't you? You're not in pain?" The viscount replied, "I'm feeling pretty exhausted and a bit sore." Serenade then came over to him, "Allow me." She then pressed her hands to his arm and applied Recover to it. But when Ashton looked around, he found the valley filled with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of shinobi and kunoichi. "What the...?" One of the shinobi, a man wearing a white hawk mask, walked over to him and spoke, "Ashton of Green Mile, I am relieved to see that you are well. We retrieved your weapon and returned it to your room at the Akatsuki Inn." Ashton asked, "But...why so many of you?" The shinobi replied, "When the Yamata no Orochi was summoned, a state of emergency was sounded and ninja throughout the land hurried to face the beast. But by the time we got here, the Orochi was gone. And we are very grateful to you for your aid." A kunoichi then walked over to Ashton and kneeled before him, "Your name shall be remembered as the hero from the Far West. What title should we remember you by?" Ashton smiled, "The Angel of the Eternal Flame."

Ashton tried to stand up, but collapsed from exhaustion. "Guess I'm more worn out than I thought." But at his fall, a number of ninja approached him, "No, Ashton. Allow us." Together, the shinobi lifted Ashton above them and formed two rows as they held him over their shoulders. "You have done much for our home. It is time we return the favor." Ashton chuckled, "If you insist. Oh?" In the moonlight, Ashton noticed something shine in the distance. "Excuse me. I noticed something over there." The same kunoichi from before nodded, "I got it." With great speed, she ran over to the spot where Ashton pointed to. A moment later, she ran back with a familiar sword in hand. "The design seems to be western. Is it yours, Ashton?" But the viscount gasped, "The Grass Long Sword." She gasped, "Grass Long Sword?! You mean the Kusanagi?!" Ashton nodded, "Yes. The High Priest used it against us. After his death, I must have forgotten about it." The kunoichi nodded, "I see. I suppose I will deliver it to the emperor." Ashton yawned, "Sure. You do that. I just want to get some sleep." As the shinobi returned home, Ashton drifted off to sleep as his new friends carried him back to town.

The next day at noon, Ashton and his eight servants kneeled before the emperor in the imperial palace as Koga looked on. "Ashton..... Words cannot describe my gratitude to you for what you have done for our land." He then bowed before Ashton, along with his advisors and everyone else present, including Koga. "You have vanquished a great evil that was thought to have been long gone. For this, I will reward you with anything you wish that is within my power." Ashton blushed, "Anything? Anything at all?" The emperor smiled, "Indeed, my boy. Just name it." The viscount grinned, "Well, I would appreciate it if my ship, the Flying Duskull, was restocked with supplies for the journey home. She also sustained damage on the way here from a pirate attack. I'd be grateful if you could repair the damage. There isn't that much. And if it's all right with you, I would like to stay here for another three weeks." The emperor then gave Ashton a surprised stare, "That is all? Are you certain?!" Ashton nodded, "I'm a viscount! I'm already quite wealthy!" Just then, the emperor clapped his hands as he stood up, "Such a pittance! A hero such as you deserves much more than this!" At the sound of his hands clapping, a servant brought in what seemed to be a sword wrapped in purist silk.

"Please accept this, if nothing else." The emperor pleaded as he took a seat. The servant handed the sword to Ashton and left through the way he came. "My specialty is the zweihander. But I could always use a souvenir." But when Ashton unwrapped the sword, he gasped at the sight before him. "This is....." The emperor added, "Yours. This is my gift to you." Ashton held the blade above him. "The Grass Long Sword. The Kusanagi..." The emperor smiled, "That sword was originally found on the corpse of the Yamata no Orochi. And since you are the one who vanquished it, it is only fair that you claim it as your own." Ashton shuddered, "A legendary sword..... A weapon without equal..." He stood up, "Thank you! I am not particularly skilled with this design of sword, but I will treasure it nonetheless!" The emperor bowed, "I am glad that you like it. Before you leave, a sheath will have been crafted for it. All I ask in return is that you always keep it safe. Do not allow it to disappear. There have been many treasure hunters who have spent their lives searching for it. Do not allow it to become a sword of myth once again." Ashton bowed, "You have my word."

That night, Ashton and his eight servants stood just outside the Akatsuki Inn in a bamboo garden that was off to the side. "You girls have been following me everywhere. Can't you just leave me alone sometimes?" Aurora replied, "Not this time. We nearly lost you yesterday. We want to be near you until we leave so that nothing will happen to you again." Ashton sighed, "I'm sorry I worried you so. I vow that I will never resort to that technique again." But just then, Laura called out, "Ooh, a meteor shower!"

Ashton and the others gazed upward at the night sky. They could see many shooting stars flying by that gave off a reddish glow. They seemed to be flying west. But while the girls were pleased by the spectacle, Ashton could not help but feel that this was a bad omen. He then turned to Chiara and spoke, "Chiara, bring one of those stars down here." The Lugia asked, "You want me to WHAT?" He spoke again, "Now. Something's not right here." The Lugia nodded and looked to the sky. A moment later, her eyes glowed a light blue as she spoke, "There!" As Ashton expected, one of the stars stopped moving. "Strange..... It's not that far away at all." A moment later, the 'star' floated down in front of Ashton. It was still glowing a reddish color. Ashton then grabbed the 'star' as it was small enough to fit in the palm of his hand.

"This thing...feels like it's trying to fly away." Ashton said as he held the object with both hands. He then led the girls inside to examine it. Once in Ashton's room, he opened his hands and watched as the object flew into the western wall of the room. Unable to get outside, it stayed there against the wall. "Strange little creature..." Ashton walked over to it and took it between two fingers. "Upon closer looks like a piece of metal." Cassandra asked, "Metal? Maybe an arrowhead?" Ashton shook his head, "I doubt it. I can feel a faint malevolent presence in this thing. But I doubt it's anything we have to worry about. And the way it tries to fly west..... It's like a lost child trying to return home." Ashton then proceeded outside and held the tiny metal fragment above him. "Fly home, little one." With that, he released his grip and watched the shard fly after its brethren. But as he walked back inside, Ashton spoke to himself, "But that monster Captain Lance warned me about..... A being that feeds on the souls of the living..... What in the world could it be?"
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