This may become a bit of a Naruto crossover, but no characters from the series will appear, this I promise.
Mother knows best
"Lord Ashton…..Lord Ashton? Are you ready yet?" A familiar voice spoke as the young viscount stirred. "Uh…is it time already?" He cracked an eye open as bright sunlight shone through the window. He saw Serenade bending over while giving him an excited stare. "I'm sorry for waking you up like this, but I'm just too excited! When can we leave?" Ashton, trying his best to not look down Serenade's dress, replied, "Um, just give me an hour. And ask all the girls if they would like to come." With a bow, Serenade set off down the hall.
As he climbed out of bed, a voice asked, "Lord Ashton?" He turned and saw Laika looking over to him. "Could you tell me about your…..I mean Serenade's parents?" With a grin, Ashton took a seat next to the she wolf. "Very well. Our mother's name is Starlet. She is a very sweet and graceful woman and is very protective of me and Serenade. She used to work as a maid for a wealthy family that was quite close with my parents. As for our father, his name is Siegfried, and he taught me how to use the sword."
Laika went silent as a puzzled expression crept across her muzzle. "A Gardevoir taught you how to wield a sword? I can't seem to picture that in my head." To her surprise, Ashton let out a laugh. "You have a point there! But Siegfried is not a Gardevoir. He is what is called a Gallade." This caught Laika's attention. "And what is that?" Ashton reached into a nearby drawer and pulled out a shiny green stone. "As you know, most Pokemon evolve at some point in their lives. And Kirlia normally evolve into Gardevoir. However, only male Kirlia can evolve into Gallade. For that to happen, they need to be exposed to one of these. This is a Dawn Stone." Just then, Zandria stepped into the room with a cart of food. "Breakfast is ready!"
As Zandria feasted on her breakfast along with Laika and Ashton, the Mightyena asked, "OK, so Siegfried is a Gallade. How much different is a Gallade from a Gardevoir?" Ashton swallowed a mouthful of poached eggs and answered, "Since you know what Serenade looks like, I'll describe the form and abilities of a Gallade. Unlike Gardevoir, their legs are much more muscular and the red horns on their chest and back are more pointed than rounded. They have a crest of sorts on the top of their heads that is a metallic blue color. They also don't wear those flowing white robes. Lastly, they have sword-like blades that extend from their elbows. These blades are used in almost identical fashion to wave swords."
"Good morning, my lord!" Out of nowhere, Laura swooped in and tackled Ashton to the bed, knocking the wind out of him. Laika sprang up, but Zandria grabbed her, "Relax. She does this all the time." When Laika looked over Laura at Ashton's face, she had to suppress a smirk at Ashton's obviously embarrassed face. "Did you sleep well? Is there anything I can get you? Can I…uh…I forget."
A while later, Ashton stood at the gates of the Ketchum estate with Laura, Serenade, Zandria, Cassandra, Aurora, and Laika at his side. "Is that everyone?" Soon, Chiara and Ruby came outside. In Ruby's hands was the Flamberge. "Aren't you forgetting this?" Ashton took the sword from the young Lucario and placed it on his back. "Are you sure you don't want to come with us?" Ruby shook her head, "I really want to come, but only Lady Chiara is staying. I think she'll need me while you're away." Aurora smiled, "We won't be gone all that long. Just two days at the very least." Ruby gave her superior a relieved grin. "I'm counting on you and Chiara to mind the estate while we are away. Take care." With a gentle pat on the head, Ashton bid goodbye to the little lady and proceeded to the town of Green Mile.
Along the way through the woods that surrounded the Ketchum estate, Cassandra asked, "Lord Ashton, why do you think Chiara chose to stay behind? I was certain she would've been very excited about meeting your parents." Ashton grinned, "That's because she has already met them. I have asked her to deliver messages to them in the past, and considering how late it was when she returned, they must have been quite hospitable to her." Suddenly, Laika spoke, "Stay close. Green Mile is just ahead."
Ashton looked around as the sounds of commerce filled his ears. The people of Green Mile were going about their business without so much as batting an eye at his entourage. Even so, he kept a hand on the hilt of his sword. There were always rotten apples in the bunch.
"Hey, is that…?" A young woman peeked out from a tailor. A few more joined her and they saw Ashton and his six servants pass by. "It is! Lord Ashton!" In a tizzy, they bolted out the door and dashed after him.
As Ashton stopped for a moment to examine some fresh fruit, he and the girls turned their heads at the sound of screaming. Ashton's face turned blue at the sight of a handful of teenage human girls running towards him. "Good grief. Just when I thought everyone thought me as being insane….."
The love struck girls screamed, "Lord Ashton, please take me!" "Let's get married!" "I want to bear your child!" But just before they reached him, a shockingly furious Laura swooped in front of them and screamed, "BACK OFF WHORES! HE'S MINE!" The sight of an angry Latias threatening them was enough to send the crazed groupies scurrying.
"Lord Ashton! They didn't get to you did they?" Laura was frantically searching over Ashton as her master reeled from her outburst. (I don't believe I have EVER seen her angry before! But why was she like that?) As Ashton pondered this, Laura sighed, "Phew…they didn't get you." But just then, she had a sneaky thought. "Oh my! They did! They put a scratch on your face!" Ashton was surprised and asked, "Where? I was certain that they did not reach me!" The Shiny Latias giggled, "Oh, it's not that bad. It's just a tiny scratch. I'll just kiss it to make it better."
Ashton thought Laura was being serious and just stood there as she narrowed the distance between their faces. Unfortunately for her, Zandria and Cassandra could tell what she was truly plotting and yelled, "Don't get sweet with him!" Together, the two rivals tackled Laura to the ground as a bewildered Ashton watched.
As a minor scuffle formed, a mercenary at an outdoor tavern laughed, "That boy has quite a variety of breeds, eh?" A companion of his commented, "Aye. I hear he has eight in total, and they're deadly protective of him." The mercenary then joked, "And it looks like they're really in top form! But then again, a knight has to keep his t-mmmph!" His partner grabbed him and covered his mouth with a hand. "You twit! Have you forgotten what he did to the poor sap who made the mistake of calling his servants tools?" The mercenary looked back ahead and began to sweat at the sight of Ashton looking over his shoulder with a glare that showed he was aware of what he had nearly spoken. "Yeah. You remember, right?" The mercenary nodded and was released. "Thanks. I do remember. Even though I wish I couldn't….."
A year ago, Ashton had come down to the market during mid autumn. This was before he had armed himself with the Flamberge, so he instead had a battle axe on his back. Zandria, who had not yet perfected speaking English, accompanied him. They had come to an area specializing in foods. Zandria needed some in order to cook for Ashton and Serenade.
"Zandria." The Zangoose looked up at her master, "Y-yes…Lord…Ashton?" The young viscount gave her a gentle head rub. "I'm glad to see that you're still practicing. It won't be long before you can speak as well as Serenade. Now then, see that?" Ashton pointed towards a certain merchant who seemed to be selling various jewelry. "Take a look at those and tell me if there's something you would like." Zandria smiled, and then ran over to the merchant.
As soon as Zandria ran up to the merchant, the old man shouted, "Hey! Shoo! Away, you little scamp!" Zandria then replied, "Um…just looking!" The merchant was quite surprised that this Zangoose could speak, but Zandria took advantage of his confusion by quickly browsing the stock of jewelry. Once she had given the inventory the once-over, Zandria ran back over to Ashton.
"Lord Ashton!" Zandria jumped onto her master's back, giving him quite a start. "What the? Who…oh. So, anything catch your eye?" The Zangoose nodded, "Yes! It's…uh…" Ashton chuckled, "Why don't you just show me?" He then turned and walked towards the merchant. "Oh, and it's really not wise to jump on my back when I have a weapon there. Make sure I'm not carrying anything next time."
"Not you again. Begone!" Ashton barked at the merchant, "That's enough! She's with me." The merchant backed down at Ashton's outburst. "Now, which one did you like?" Zandria looked over his shoulder and pointed at what seemed to be a circlet with an opal on the front. Ashton grinned as he remembered doing some research on Zandria's birth and discovered that her birthstone is the opal. (I never was able to find the day of her birth, but I know she was born in October. This will make a fine birthday present for her.)
After purchasing the circlet, Ashton smiled at Zandria, who was looking at him over his shoulder. "This will make a fine gift for someone. You have quite an eye for jewelry." The Zangoose blushed at his praise, but they were interrupted by a passing 'breeder' of Pokemon. Of course, breeding methods back then were far less tasteful and bordered on barbaric.
"To think you'd let one of your slaves choose something from a jeweler. I'd check to make sure it's authentic if I were you." Ashton grumbled, "Pay him no heed, Zandria." But the breeder went on, "What's wrong with you? Tools are supposed to be locked up at home until needed! What would you need to bring one down here for?" At this, Ashton froze in his tracks. "Yeah, you heard me. Those little things are just our tools. If they break, just toss them out. Don't tell me you never knew that?"
Everyone nearby began to back away as Ashton stood there without making a move. Soon he whispered, "What did you call them?" The breeder did not quite hear him and asked, "Huh? What was that?" Ashton then turned slightly and growled, "That term you just used… What was it?" The breeder shook his head in disgust, "Ignorant AND deaf. I said that you don't understand that tools should be kept at home and discarded if they can't be used anymore." At this, everyone quickly left the street in droves. A bartender at an inn nearby groaned as he watched from a window, "That fool's a dead man."
With a stern voice, Ashton ordered, "Zandria, it would be best if you got off me." Even the young female could not ignore her master's sudden change in mood. She quickly hopped off and asked, "Lord A-Ashton? What…is…?" She stopped when he gently laid a hand on her head. "Go. Return to the estate. You don't want to see this." Taking his word for it, Zandria sprinted through the village back home on all fours.
"Are you aware of what you just did?" Ashton growled as he placed a hand on his axe's handle. "Yeah, I know what the rumors say about you. Everyone's afraid of you since you kill anyone who calls the ones who live with you 'Beasts'. But I never even said the word, so you've got nothing on me. Farewell." But as the breeder turned his back, Ashton dashed up to him and slammed him into a stone wall with a hand on his throat! "True, but what you called them is far worse. By calling them 'Beasts' you are at least acknowledging them as living creatures. But by calling them 'Tools' you are saying they are just that. Mere objects. So can you guess what I'm going to do to you?" Ashton gave the breeder a very cruel smile as he removed his axe from his back. "No? Drawing blanks, are you? Well then, I'll tell you!" Using the blunt end of his axe's head, Ashton made an underhand swing and smashed the left leg of his victim! "I'm gonna make you wish I killed you quickly!"
The breeder screamed in agony as Ashton dropped him to the ground, clutching his leg as blood turned his pants leg dark. "That'll stop you from running. Now let's go." Ashton then grabbed the unharmed right leg and dragged him down the street with him screaming all the way. "No, please! I'm sorry that I insulted them! It won't happen again!" Ashton paid him no heed as they approached the square where much commerce took place. The instant Ashton set foot into the square; everyone present stopped and stared as he dragged his victim towards the center.
Once he was certain everyone could get a good look, Ashton dropped the leg and shouted, "None of you seem to understand. But should anyone refer to my family as 'Tools', you will meet this poor fool's fate! Now observe!" Taking his axe in both hands, Ashton brought the blade down on the base of the breeder's already broken leg. A sickening blow was heard as the leg was severed in a spray of blood. The breeder could not help screaming in searing pain. But by this time, Ashton had grown quite annoyed with his screams and gave a quick kick to the head to knock him out. "That'll shut him up." He then proceeded to sever the other leg, and then the arms, all the while maidens screamed in horror at this gruesome execution.
With the breeder steadily bleeding to death, Ashton turned to the crowd and yelled, "Let this be a lesson to you all! If anyone and I really do mean ANYONE, even the queen, has enough of a death wish to call my family 'Tools', then you'll get THIS!" Ashton then raised his axe above his head and brought it down hard, smashing the skull of the mortally wounded fool. The carnage that oozed from the remains was horrendous to the extreme as multiple thuds were heard as fainting women collapsed to the ground. Suddenly, Ashton turned and yelled, "YOU GOT THAT?" The fact that everyone present that were still conscious fled in terror was a sign that they all understood. Ashton then turned his back on his axe and his latest victim as he headed back home, an angry scowl adorning his face.
"All right, that's enough! Laura, Zandria, Cassandra! Stop that and let's get going!" At the sound of his voice, the three ladies clambered to their feet and brushed themselves off. "Please forgive us, my lord. I don't know what came over us." Cassandra bowed along with Laura and Zandria. "Well just keep your emotions in check until we reach our destination. I don't want to have to pay for property damage." Without anymore disturbances, the small entourage reached the city limits and was on their way north.
"Lord Ashton, just how long do you believe it will take for us to reach our destination?" Aurora asked as they trekked along the road leading north as rays of light shone through the trees. The path was covered by overlapping tree branches to protect travelers from the elements in harsh weather. "Oh, I'd say we should arrive before sundown if we keep going without interruptions. It's not far from Verdant."
Zandria was curious of where this town of Verdant was and asked, "What is Verdant? A city?" However, Ashton kept walking without saying a word. A strange silence filled the area as Zandria waited for her answer. Serenade then asked, "Lord Ashton?" That's when he asked with a sheepish smile, "Uh, is Chiara not here?" Everyone came to an abrupt stop and glared at him. Zandria growled, "She stayed behind! Have you forgotten?"
Ashton scratched his head in embarrassment. "Ugh. To think I would forget that someone was missing. Sorry about that. Now, you wanted to know about Verdant?" Zandria nodded. "OK, but I'll tell you as we go. Come." He then continued north as the rest followed, except for Laika. She stayed at the front to watch for danger.
Ashton then looked back at the ladies and spoke, "Now then, Verdant is the second most prosperous city in Rohta. Its prosperity comes from being a crossroads to Green Mile and the village of Slatis to the north, an outpost that produces many raw materials used throughout the kingdom to manufacture various goods, mostly weapons and armor. It is also the crossroad to the neighboring Kingdom of Clavice. A forest known as the Dead Forest makes up the border between our kingdom and the one of Clavice. And before anyone asks, no. It is not the Black Woods where Sabrina dwells. That place is located just to the south and a bit west of Green Mile."
Overcome with curiosity, Laika turned and asked, "Why is it called the Dead Woods?" Ashton came to a sudden stop. "Well, it would be best to tell the story at night, but I'd rather not wait around for the sun to set." But then, he looked back at everyone with an extremely mischievous grin on his face, "But if you want to know badly enough, I can make it so." Laura squealed, "Ooh, ooh, ooh, is it a spooky story?" Ashton cackled, "Oh yes, as spooky as they come!" Aurora laughed, "Fine, you've piqued my curiosity, my lord. Please do tell." Ashton then brought his hands together and laughed, "So be it. But can you stomach it?"
As the viscount muttered some kind of chant, an eerie wind began to whistle through the trees as darkness closed around them. "I picked this up from a little tome I discovered in the study at home. There's no need to be alarmed." Soon, it was just as dark as a moonless night. "Hurry up already! We don't want to waste too much time here!" Zandria yelled in frustration. "Very well, but rest assured that this will give you nightmares. So, shall we begin, my dears?"
Ashton, barely visible in the darkness, spoke, "Some time ago, about 300 years at least, there existed a heartless butcher that wandered the land, slaughtering everyone it came across. No one knows the name of this apparition, but it was feared far and wide as it was known to kill even entire armies that sought to destroy it." Ashton then proceeded to take the Flamberge in his hand. "They say that its weapon of choice was something similar to mine. It could slay everything around it with one wide swing of its accursed weapon." Zandria then joked, "I'm sure this monster was just you on one of your rampages….urk?" Zandria froze when she found a very creepy face right in front of her. "Shall I continue?" The Zangoose cracked a very nervous smile as sweat trickled down her face.
"As I was saying, this creature was hated by all, and the Kingdom of Clavice was no exception. When it was discovered that this butcher's trail of death was making its way to the border of the two kingdoms, the entire Clavice army was there waiting. They were lying in ambush in what would come to be known as the Dead Forest as the Knighthood of Rohta closed in from the other direction to make sure that there was no escape. Still, it was not an easy battle." Out of nowhere, the sounds of battle came with metal clashing and battle cries. "This beast was nothing like this world had ever seen. When it finally met its end in that forest, this butcher was rumored to have been surrounded by mountains of corpses. Its cursed blood spread through the ground, twisting the trees into hideous shapes. To this day, it is said that the butcher somehow was able to escape death and is reincarnated every several decades, although there has never been any recording of when and where it appears."
As the veil of darkness disappeared, Ashton had to hold his breath at the sight of his six servants huddled around each other with wide eyes staring at him. Even the stern-faced Laika was not able to hide her horror. Finally, Ashton could not hold out and laughed, "Don't worry so much! It's just a legend! I'm fairly doubtful that such a creature could even exist in the first place!" He then placed the Flamberge on his back again. Suddenly, Cassandra yelled, "That was so creepy! Real or not, that story will leave me jittery for a while!"
Upon arrival, Ashton pointed out some certain spots. "Well, this is Verdant. The academy Garyson and I attended is right there." A fortress of a structure could be seen over the rooftops in the distance. "Garyson also lives here, so don't be surprised if we see him." Suddenly, Laura shouted, "Oh boy, I remember that!" She then flew over to what seemed to be a bakery. "Gah! Laura, what're you doing?" She called back, "Just getting some goodies! This place has some really good pastries!" Ashton yelled, "That's what almost got you killed last time! Hold on." As Ashton walked over, Cassandra asked Serenade, "What was Ashton talking about?" The Gardevoir replied, "This is where he saved Laura. She got in trouble for stealing food from the locals. That just might be one of them."
"Yes, that'll be all. Thanks again." Ashton carried a sack of pastries back over to his servants while Laura snacked on one. "Mmmm! Just as tasty as I remember!" Ashton then said, "I got one for each of us. Enjoy." One by one, Ashton handed out a pastry to each of the ladies, plus an extra to Laura since she liked them so much. But for Cassandra, Aurora, and Laika, Ashton had to feed them himself since they lacked hands. "Wow, that's good! I've got to figure out the recipe for these." Zandria sighed as she licked her lips. "Same here! There's cream filling and a layer of powdered sugar…oh! And I taste a bit of fudge!" Cassandra commented as she swallowed her load.
A few hours had passed as Ashton's entourage continued north into the Viridian Forest. The sun had started to become lower in the sky as evening approached. Aurora looked around, "We've made good time. I'm surprised we made it before nightfall." Ashton then spoke, "We're not there just yet. Stay close. Oh?" Ashton stopped abruptly to see Laika standing still, slightly twitching her ears. "Someone….." Ashton bent down next to her. "Is there someone coming?" Laika whispered, "No. It's stationary. Someone…is singing… It sounds like…a woman in her early 30s. To the east." Suddenly, Ashton stood up and broke into a run towards the east. "Huh? Where are you going?" Laika yelled, but Aurora interrupted, "Let's just follow. I'm sure I have a hunch of who is singing."
For a few minutes Ashton made his way through the forest without resting. "This place is starting to look familiar. Wait…" He stopped at what sounded like running water. As he approached the source of the sound, he stopped at the sight of the very stream where he had often played with Serenade as a young child. "Nothing has changed. It's just as I remember." Knowing exactly where he was, Ashton made his way a bit further to the east. Very soon he came to a small clearing in which stood a familiar looking cottage. "I…I'm home…"
It was then that Ashton heard what he had been hoping to hear. Sneaking around to the other side of his former home, he came within sight of the well where his family acquired their drinking water. And standing next to the well while singing a pleasant tune was a lovely female Gardevoir hanging up laundry to dry. "Mother….."
Starlet had just finished hanging up the bed sheets when she heard a twig snap and turned to see the source of the sound. She gasped to see what seemed to be a young knight with a very large sword on his back standing motionless. It took her a moment, but she saw some similarities. "Ashton…..?" The knight replied tearfully, "Yes. It is I, Mother." He then quickly walked over to her and embraced her while sobbing.
"I feared that some vicious bandit had murdered you…I was so fearful that I would find this place abandoned…" Ashton could not stop himself from weeping in the arms of the woman who had raised him. Starlet whispered, "There now. You need not worry about us. Your father has worked diligently to improve his fighting skills to keep us safe. Still, I missed you and Serenade sorely as well. Please, let me have a look at you."
Ashton took a step back as his mother circled him. "My word, has it really only been two years? You're even more handsome than before!" Ashton chuckled, "Yes, it really has only been two years." But then Starlet took a close look at his sword. "Just what is this monstrosity? Just how do you manage to walk with it?" Ashton blushed while letting out a boyish giggle, "It's quite a long story. I'll just say I had some help." His mother then rested her head on his shoulder. "You truly are the son I always wanted. Is it true that you have taken in several Pokemon into your home?" Ashton gave her a very warm smile. "Yes. In all there are eight of them, including Serenade." But Starlet replied, "Well speak of the devil." Ashton looked ahead and saw Serenade peeping around the corner of the cottage.
"I see Mother is just as attached to you as ever, Ashton." Serenade giggled as her brother blushed at their pose. "True, but that doesn't mean I treasure you less." Starlet then glided over to her daughter and embraced her. "I missed you, Mother." Starlet replied, "I've prayed for you and your brother every night since you departed. I see that my prayers were not ignored." Just then, a familiar voice screamed, "AH, LADY KETCHUM!"
Starlet was suddenly tackled by a certain Shiny Latias as the rest of Ashton's entourage arrived. "It's such an honor to meet the mother of such a darling boy! Your son is the sweetest man I've ever had the privilege of serving!" Starlet managed to pry off her unexpected tackler and noticed something. "A Latias? Oh, you must be Laura! Yes, I am Ashton's mother. You seem to be the life of the party!" Ashton added, "You have no idea. At times I think she would be better off as the royal jester!" Laura heard and cried, "That's so mean! Do you not want me around anymore?" The Latias burst into tears as she simply floated there. Embarrassed, Ashton walked over to her and embraced her. "Please don't cry. I'm sorry I offended you. Honestly." However, he soon saw her neck bend backwards as she let out a sigh, her head hanging upside-down. "Oh man! Did she pass out? Laura!" Ashton gave her a few goods shakes, but she remained unconscious.
"Don't worry, dear. It seems she just fainted." Starlet pointed out, not bothering to mention the very deep blush on Laura's face. "I, uh, see. Well then, allow me to introduce you to my new family." Ashton walked over to the other girls and began with Zandria. "This is Zandria. She is the chef of the estate." The Zangoose bowed, "A pleasure to meet you, Lady Ketchum." Starlet brought a hand to her face as she giggled, "Such a doll! But my last name is not Ketchum. Just call me Starlet."
Ashton then proceeded over to Cassandra. "This is Cassandra. She is the gardener of the estate. A lovely girl, if I do say so myself." Cassandra blushed, "You speak too highly of me, my lord!" "Nonsense! Why should I belittle any of you?" Starlet sighed, "It pleases my soul that you see us Pokemon as equals, Ashton." With a warm tone, Ashton replied, "I have you and Father to thank for that."
The viscount then proceeded over to the head maid. "This is Aurora. She is the head maid, so she commands the others when I'm not able to." With the grace of any queen, the Suicune bowed, "It is an honor, Lady Starlet." Ashton's mother smiled, "She is very beautiful." Ashton then smirked, "Being the eldest of the eight, she is much more mature. It's only natural to have such wisdom when you're over 300 years old." Starlet staggered back, "300? There's no way! How could a woman so beautiful be so elderly?" Aurora let out a good laugh and said, "That is because I am immortal. My body does not age. My mind continues to grow wiser while my form does not decay at all." Starlet sighed, "If only I had such youth….."
Ashton spoke, "But you don't look a day older since I last saw you! But anyway…" He then stood next to Laika. "This is Laika. She is my personal guardian and is the most recent addition to the family." The albino Mightyena just stood there with a stony expression. "So you've been watching over my son? My sincere thanks, Miss Laika." However, the she wolf remained silent. "Uh, don't mind her if she seems rude. She's had a very hard life up until she met me. She usually only speaks when she has to." Ashton spoke with a smile, hoping to make his mother understand.
"Oh yes, where is Father?" Ashton asked. "He's downstairs. I'm sure he would be thrilled to see you." Starlet replied as her son disappeared inside their home. But it did not take long for Ashton to remember, "Wait a minute. We never even HAD a second floor! Where is he?" Ashton looked around for a moment until he found a hatch that led down a short flight of stairs underground. "This was never here. Must be new."
Ashton quietly crept down the stairs and found himself at the end of a hallway carved out of the ground itself. "Impressive…most impressive." There were about seven doorways in total with curtains that acted as doors, seeing as how doors would be difficult to install there. But soon he noticed in one of the rooms a Gallade moving around some furniture. Placing his hand on the hilt of the Flamberge, Ashton yelled, "SNEAK ATTACK!"
The instant Ashton shouted his challenge; the Gallade extended his elbow blades without even turning around. Suddenly, he heard a strange sound followed by Ashton saying, "What the devil?" The Gallade turned and stared at the sight of Ashton's sword stuck in the low ceiling. He had tried to perform an overhead swing and had dug the blade into the earth above him! After a brief struggle, Ashton managed to dislodge the blade, only to have a load of water pour onto him!
Overcome with embarrassment, Ashton sheepishly put the Flamberge back on his back with a nervous smile. Unfortunately for him, the Gallade was quite annoyed and yelled, "Ashton, you klutz! That was the bathtub you put a hole in!" The Gallade glared at Ashton as he looked as if he was about to run him through with his blades. But instead, he sheathed them and chuckled, "Still, accidents happen. I just never expected you to pull such a diabolical weapon on me! I could swear I trained you to wield the sword, not the axe!" Ashton laughed, "It's a zweihander! But I'm glad to see that you're still the man I idolized, Father!" The two of them embraced each other tightly. Siegfried, though hiding it, was nearly at the point of weeping to see his son alive.
After a moment of bonding, Ashton finally brought up the question. "Father, just WHAT did you do here? Don't tell me you dug all this earth out on your own?" Siegfried gave a hearty laugh and said, "Of course not! Your mother and I enlisted the aid of some neighbors." This baffled Ashton to no end. "But I've never seen anyone else around here." Siegfried added, "True, but that's because they usually live underground. They're…ah! There they are now!"
Ashton thought he heard a parade of sorts and ran back out into the hall. Soon, an entire swarm of Diglett, in a single file line, came pouring out of a small hole in the earthen wall and down the hall. "Diglett dig, Diglett dig, Diglett dig, Diglett dig, Diglett dig, Diglett dig, Diglett dig, Diglett dig!" Ashton followed them down to the end of the hall and looked into the last room to see them evening out the walls and floor! "Diglett. Who knew?" After barely a minute they shuffled out of the room and down the hall. Siegfried waved, "Thanks again, lads!" just as they disappeared through the tunnel they entered through.
"Now then, why did you excavate these…4, 5, 6, 7 rooms under our home?" Ashton asked with his arms crossed. Siegfried gave him a sneaky smirk and spoke, "I'm surprised you haven't thought of it yet. When Chiara visited us last time, she told us how many Pokemon you had brought into your home. So just in case the whole lot of you visited, your mother and I enlisted the aid of those Diglett to carve out some extra guest rooms, plus a couple more should you add to your family. Speaking of which, how many are living with you now?" Ashton nodded at his father's ingenuity and replied, "In all, there are nine of us living there."
Siegfried smiled, "Good. The seven rooms down here should cover you all. Your's and Serenade's rooms are still just the way they were when you left. The tree roots here and there provide air so the lamps don't use it all up. Say, would you introduce me to the girls you brought along?" Ashton chuckled, "Sure, just as long as you don't try to woo them." Siegfried began to sweat, "Very funny. Your mother is the only woman who has ever caught my eye. Now let's go."
A bit later, Siegfried demonstrated his swordsmanship skills with a duel against Ashton while five of the girls watched. Zandria and Starlet were preparing dinner inside. The Gallade kept his distance to avoid the long reach of the Flamberge, but Ashton surprised him with a sudden burst of speed, ramming Siegfried with his shoulder and sending his father rolling over backwards. The instant Siegfried got to his knees; he felt the tip of Ashton's sword lightly touching his throat. "Checkmate, Father."
Siegfried laughed, "The last thing I ever expected was to be bested by someone wielding such a large and heavy weapon. You have surpassed me, my son." After placing his sword on his back, Ashton took his father's hand and helped him to his feet. "Thanks, but if it was anyone else, you would've torn them to shreds." Just then, they all smelled the aroma of various foods coming from the cottage. "Mmmm. Brings back memories. And that duel worked up my appetite. Shall we?"
As Siegfried and his son walked in, Zandria spoke up immediately. "Lord Ashton, you be the judge!" He replied, "To what?" The Zangoose pointed at the dinner table. There were two plates of each different food laid out across from each other. "Your mother and I had a little contest. We both cooked the same amount of food, but in our own styles. You will be the taste tester and decide which of us has the best cooking skills." Ashton brought a hand to his face, "You developed a rivalry with my own mother? Can't you let things be just once? Whatever, I accept!"
Ashton sat at the head of the long table while his mother and Zandria sat at opposite sides next to him. Two plates were passed along to him with each carrying food cooked exclusively by each cook, so as to not confuse them. Zandria's cooking was placed on his left while Starlet's was on his right. It became eerily silent as Ashton took his silverware in hand. "I will start with Zandria's cooking." Ashton cut away a piece of roasted chicken and slowly chewed. Next he took a bite of the fried potatoes. Next on the list were the green beans and carrots. He then finished off the lot with fresh fruit porridge of sorts that had been made by mixing together various fruits and grinding them into mush. As he wiped his face, Ashton commented, "I have no complaints. Your cooking is as fine as ever."
Next Ashton went for Starlet's cooking, eating the goods in the same order as before. He began with the chicken and ended with the fruit dish. As he finished his second plate, Ashton looked around at the eager faces of his family. With a sigh, he faced Zandria and said, "My apologies Zandria, but you still are not yet up to my Mother's level."
At this declaration, Zandria sat up and shouted, "What do you mean? Are you saying I'm not gifted enough?" Starlet answered, "That's not the point. Let me explain please." Zandria reluctantly took her seat with a sour expression. Starlet then spoke, "I was self taught in the cooking arts. What's more, I have been cooking almost everyday for the past 16 years. I heard about how talented you were when you cooked for the very first time. And that was just over a year ago. If you keep going, you will surpass me. After all, I was not a natural when I first started."
Even with her masters' mother's kind words, Zandria was not convinced that she had been outdone. "I'll be the judge of this." Sticking some potatoes with her claws, Zandria took a bite with gusto. But as she chewed, her face began to look less angry and more bewildered. Siegfried chuckled to himself, (This is going to be good.) A moment of awkward silence passed after Zandria swallowed her load, but she soon turned and laid her upper body face down across the table while avoiding the food in a type of bow. "Mistress, please teach me!" Starlet gave Zandria a gentle pat on the head and raised her face until they were eye to eye. "Absolutely. Just make sure you can learn what you can before you leave."
That night, everyone was snuggly asleep. Cassandra, Laura, Aurora, and Zandria were sleeping in the guest rooms underground while Ashton and Serenade were resting in their old bedrooms. Of course, Laika was sleeping at Ashton's feet to defend him should the need arise. However, he was lying awake in bed as he listened to the sounds of the night throughout the forest.
Suddenly Ashton looked to the left as he heard his door creak open. "Still awake, dear?" A smile crept across his face as his mother walked in with a candle in hand. "I'm surprised that you're still awake. Are you worried about Chiara?" Her son sighed, "Just a little. It's mostly Ruby I fear for." Starlet asked, "I do not believe I know of her. Could you tell me?" Ashton looked up at her and said, "She is a Lucario that I took in not long ago. She is the youngest of the eight girls that live with me. I fear what might happen if she were put in danger." Starlet then set her candle down on a nearby desk. When she took a seat next to Ashton's head, she whispered, "You need not worry so much. Chiara is with her, and I know for a fact that she is far more powerful than her size shows."
Ashton took some comfort in his mother's words, but when he looked up at her, he saw something familiar. Hanging from around her neck was a gem of sorts which was resting on her breasts. "Mother, is that…?" Starlet looked down and held up the jewel she was wearing. "Oh yes, I'm so glad that you noticed. This is the very same peridot that you gave me when you were five years old. Your father polished and cut it and made a necklace with it. I promised that I would treasure it, and I'm sticking with that vow." Ashton gave a pleased gaze, but said, "Mother, I'm a tad thirsty. Could you please fetch me something?" An odd smile came across her face as she asked, "Would some warm fresh milk do?" Ashton shrugged his shoulders, "I suppose." With a grin, Starlet closed her eyes and gripped the green cloth on the right side of her chest. "Mother…? What are you…" Before Ashton could complete his sentence, Starlet had yanked down one side of her vest, allowing her breast to be shown.
Ashton was on the verge of panic as he stared at his own mother's breast. "Mother, this isn't right! What do you…?" He suddenly calmed down as she lifted his head a little. "There's nothing wrong with a mother feeding her child. Why, you would suckle from my breast up until you turned six." Ashton blushed; surprised that he could not remember such a time. "But Mother, after 15 years, I don't believe it's possible to do this." Starlet giggled and held her breast with a hand. "Think again." With a very small squeeze, a stream of milk squirted onto Ashton's face.
"Is this real?" Ashton tasted the milk, but could not tell very well due to the small amount. Starlet cooed, "I don't know how to explain it. Every now and then my breasts become heavy with milk, as if I had just given birth. I usually just squeeze it out, but I don't want it to go to waste this time." Ashton thought this over for a moment, and then sighed, "Very well, but just this once." Starlet nodded and lifted her son's face to her breast. As he began to suck, Starlet gasped with delight. "The feeling of my milk being consumed by my own child…..it brings back so many memories." Starlet could remember the time just minutes after giving birth to her own daughter when her master's closest friends had passed away from a dreadful disease.
(I remember…those innocent dark brown eyes staring up at me. The doubt I had for fear of you viewing me as an underling. But the way you reached out to me, the way any newborn would reach out to its mother. I felt as if I had just given birth a second time. As if I had given birth to you. You were human, and I was not. But it did not matter. You were my only son. And I strived to be the best mother I could, and I am proud to have succeeded.) Starlet closed her eyes as tears of love began to trickle down her face.
Ashton finally drained as much milk as he could before he let go. "Strange…..I almost recognize the flavor." When he looked up, he saw his mother crying. "Mother, why are you crying?" Starlet opened her eyes and smiled, "Because I am so proud to have you as a son." She then held Ashton to her chest tightly, as if he would disappear forever any second. "Mother, please. I'm 15 years old. And to top it off, I'm a certified knight. Don't you think this is somewhat improper?" At this, Starlet loosened her grip and looked him in the eyes. "Ashton, no matter how old you become or what role you take, you will always be my precious little boy." This remark somehow touched Ashton deeply as it brought a tear to his eye. "I love you too, Mother." With one last kiss, Ashton covered up for the night as Starlet took her candle and moved on down to Serenade's room. She was not the least bit surprised to find her daughter lying awake as well.
"Serenade, there is something you've been meaning to speak with me in private about, yes?" The teenage Gardevoir nodded. (I have not seen that look in her eyes for ten years. What happened?) Setting down her candle, Starlet took a seat next to her daughter. "I almost never saw you like this. What is troubling you?" To her shock, she saw tears building in Serenade's eyes. "It…it happened again….."
Worried, Starlet whispered, "Please tell me everything." Serenade continued, "Just yesterday, Ashton took part in a tournament to win some extra funds. But his final opponent was the Night Hawk, the most wanted assassin in the kingdom. She proved to be too much, and she kept insulting us throughout the match. Just before she was about to kill him…..he changed."
Starlet listened carefully as her daughter held back tears. "He…he changed completely. He was no longer the boy we know. He became enshrouded with flames, and a pair of rainbow wings sprouted from his back. He was bloodthirsty, and he was beyond cruel. When the fight ended, there was absolutely nothing left of the Night Hawk, not even ashes. If Aurora and I had not intervened, he would have slaughtered the audience as well." After a moment of silence, Serenade turned and pleaded with tears falling, "Mother, you must know! Why did he become that way? Where did he acquire such power?"
Starlet embraced her teary-eyed daughter and whispered, "I don't know the precise reason of how he entered that state you spoke of, but…" Serenade looked at her mother, "But what? Did something happen?" Starlet sighed, "Your father and I have kept this a secret from everyone, but I will tell you." Serenade stared as she listened, but her mother added, "But please, do not tell Ashton." Serenade nodded, knowing that she only wanted the best for her brother.
Starlet began, "It all began just a few weeks after the two of you were born. Ashton became infected with the very same disease that had claimed his parents. We tried everything we could to cure him, but its grip on him was far too strong. Your father and I…we were grief-stricken, as if we had already lost him. But you, the way you were by his side at all times, I could see that you were suffering even more than we were. You would weep in sorrow every time he screamed when wracked with pain. He continued to scream and scream, until he was too weak to make another sound." Serenade saw tears falling from her eyes as she retold Ashton's brush with death.
"Over the course of one week, Ashton was screaming and writhing in pain. But at the end, he was as silent as a corpse. He was not dead, but not alive either. That night….." Starlet continued, her voice beginning to break, "I went outside and screamed to the sky. I pleaded for someone to save my son. For anyone who could hear me to bring my son back from Death's door. I pleaded, and I may have been delirious while doing so, but before long, my pleas were heard."
Serenade asked, "Who was it? Who heard you?" Starlet continued, a bit calmer now. "I heard a voice that seemed to come from all directions. It sounded like the voice of an angel. She told me to bring my son to the Dead Forest if I wished to save him. Wasting no time, I snatched him up and went there as quickly as I could. At night, that place is the most haunting forest in the kingdom, but when I arrived, a trail of rainbow lights streaked along the ground. Hoping for the best, I followed them. Hardly two minutes had passed when I came to a clearing. It was then that I met the owner of the voice I had heard. She was not an angel, but she may as well have been one."
Serenade was mesmerized by the tale her own mother was telling her. "The person who had heard my pleas was the Phoenix of legend. Ho-oh. She instructed me to set my child before her, which I did. She draped him with her rainbow wing and spoke, 'This child is one who will have a profound influence on the world. If he dies, many will suffer.' It was then that a brilliant flame engulfed her wing. I wanted to reach in and pull Ashton out, but I told myself that this was for the best. When the flame died out, Ho-oh raised her wing, and I was overcome with gratitude to see Ashton looking around in curiosity."
Serenade wiped a tear away to hear that she had nearly lost her brother at such a young age, even before she could remember him. However, Starlet added, "Just before Ho-oh departed, she gave me a warning. 'Humans are not as spiritually pure as I am. They are angered all too easily. It is for the best that the world does not discover why I must not become enraged.' With that, she departed. When I held Ashton in my arms again, he was very happy to see me, as if he knew that he was about to leave us forever. But Ho-oh's parting warning haunted me."
Serenade now understood what Ho-oh's warning meant. "I see now. When she burned away what was harming Ashton, she infused him with her own power. He is practically a human Ho-oh now. But when he becomes enraged, he is a threat to everything around him. That is why Ho-oh must not become consumed with fury. Her rage would scorch the earth until all life ceased." Starlet stood up and said, "Just remember, Ashton must not know of this." But just as she was reaching for her candle, Starlet stopped. "Mother…?"
Starlet turned and faced her daughter. "Thank goodness. I nearly forgot. Serenade, I have been meaning to ask you one request." The young Gardevoir was puzzled, but it must have been important and personal if she wanted to ask her in private. "Please, someday when you feel the time is right, marry Ashton."
Serenade was both shocked and embarrassed of what her mother had just asked of her. "Mother! Are you mad? How can I marry my own brother?" Starlet laughed at her daughter's reaction, "He is not your true brother. He is adopted. Surely you can see that." Serenade sighed, knowing that she and Ashton were not even remotely related. She was a pureblooded Gardevoir while he was a pureblooded human. But that's when her mother surprised her more. "Just between you and me, if I had never met your father, I would've claimed Ashton as my husband and never left his side!"
Serenade was not entirely sure if she should have been feeling amused or disgusted. The very thought of her mother having an intimate relationship with her brother was almost unbearable. "I'm very serious. He is the most darling and loving boy I have ever known. If I was still single, I would take him and bear his children many times over. I would protect him with my life. Of course, I could never leave Siegfried. I just love him too dearly." Starlet blushed as she thought of the possibilities of having Ashton as a husband.
"I'm sorry if this sounds unbelievable, but it is entirely your decision, Serenade. But please do not tell your father or Ashton about anything I told you tonight. Good night, dear." Starlet gave her daughter one last kiss on the forehead before taking her candle and heading off to bed herself.
For a time, Serenade just laid there in bed, playing her mother's request over in her head. Was it even possible for a human to love a Pokemon like a marital partner? (Even if we aren't related, I'm not sure if I even love him like that. Does he love me like that? I just don't know…..) She then began to think out loud. "Still, there was that time he defended me from those bandits. And he always cooked for me before Zandria showed up. And the…wait…the party?"
Serenade remembered when Ashton was invited to a royal gathering at the castle where many guests danced. Ashton insisted that she join him, even though the other guests would not approve of her presence. As expected, they paid no attention and she was barred from any of the food that was served. However, Ashton did one thing that night that no one expected. He asked Serenade to dance with him.
As they glided across the dance floor, everyone present stared with the sole exception of the musicians. Serenade felt horribly embarrassed, but Ashton's kind gaze washed her fears away. Without fear weighing her down, Serenade danced with even more grace and flair than her brother. But he shocked her at the end by giving her the most unexpected and wonderful kiss she had ever received, much to the shock and disgust of the other guests.
Serenade brought a hand to her lips as she remembered the sensation of his lips touching her own. "He kissed me…he actually kissed me…..and not a peck on the cheek, but a genuine kiss…" As the memory of that kiss filled her mind, Serenade's fears disappeared and she felt her true desires that had been held back by her belief that she could never feel this way about a human, even more so than the human who she had always been taught to view as a brother.
"Mother…..I do. I really do love him." Serenade brought a hand to her chest as she began to drift off to sleep. "Someday…yes. Someday I shall propose to him. I promise."
Two days passed before Ashton and Serenade decided to head home, but not before Serenade passed her decision on to her mother. Zandria was very eager to put her new cooking skills to the test. As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, the group had just passed Green Mile and was only minutes away from the Ketchum estate.
"Home sweet home. Can't wait to take a bath." Ashton groaned as he stretched. Suddenly, Laika stopped. "Hm? What's wrong this time?" Her ears went flat against her head as she growled, "I smell…blood!" Fear flashed through Ashton's mind at what this could mean. Wasting no time, he focused chakra into his feet and took off down the road at very high speed! But when he got to the manor, he froze in his tracks. "No…NO!"
The entire courtyard was a mess. The bush sculptures were ravaged and burned while the gate had been twisted by a strong impact. Fortunately, the manor itself was untouched. However, the door was wide open, and lying in the doorway was a bloodied and beaten Chiara.
"Chiara!" Ashton ran over to the midget Lugia and held her head. "No, please! Don't die on me!" Soon, she opened her eyes and whispered, "I'm so sorry…..I couldn't stop them….." Ashton asked, "Who? Who did this to you?" Chiara continued, "They…they took her…they took Ruby… The Black Wing…at the Demon's Cape….." With that, Chiara passed out, her left wing broken.
A moment passed before the six other servants arrived. "NOOO! MY GARDEN!" Cassandra screamed in grief at the sight of her ruined sculptures. Aurora then noticed Chiara lying in the doorway. "No, Chiara!" The Suicune sprinted over to her friend and saw Ashton looking utterly horrified and furious. "Lord Ashton…is she…?" He replied, "She's just unconscious."
Standing up, Ashton called, "Laura! Serenade!" The two ladies approached him carefully, afraid that he would go berserk at any time. "Serenade. Chiara's left wing is broken. Please see to her aid." Without a word, Serenade levitated Chiara down the hall to the bathroom to perform the necessary surgery. "Laura, fetch my armor." This frightened the Latias more than anything. "But for you to request your armor…" Ashton nodded, "Yes. I must prepare for battle. And I can't afford to take chances here."
As Laura made her way to the armory of the manor, Ashton proceeded to his room. "This will be the last time the Black Wing inflicts harm on my family. Tonight, the name of 'Black Wing' dies!"