Chapter 21: New Power, New Frustration

The Barrier Workshop was under attack. Rea had revert herself as an agent by stealing an item and Doll had captured Naua, her father. Now, Ash had to save Naua while Doll came face-to-face against Ash. "I forget that you're still someone I want to hold close in the bathtub," she teased. "For now, it would be better if you leave. Call it a temporary truce." Ash cringed about letting Doll go while holding Naua hostage.

"Ash, just go!" ordered Naua. "She's my daughter! I can understand her needs! Return to the Swan! NOW!" Ash realized that his help became unnecessary and dashed off. He ran hard, hoping to find the Swan and his friends. Before long, he was confronted by Sacred Mechanoids who surrounded him. They had black shields which were the same size as Ash's Shield of Hikari.

"Look what the cat dragged out!" a young woman sneered.

"Don't underestimate him," another young woman warned. "He may be a kid, but he holds a lot of power." Ash tried to look for a way to escape as a Sacred Mechanoid's arm reached for him. There was nothing in its hand.

"He's better off dead than as a Sacred MechaMaster for Sir Dagmeyr," the first woman advised as she pointed her rifle at Ash. Suddenly, a shot blasted the arm, knocking the rifle free. Ash turned to find Ceres and Hazuki in a MechaWorker coming to his aid.

"Ash!" called out Hazuki. Seeing the MechaWorker, Ash rushed in and boarded the MechaWorker.

"Nice timing, you two!" he praised. Ceres steered the MechaWorker towards the Swan.

"Don't let them get away!" the second rogue Sacred MechaMaster shouted. The Sacred Mechanoids grabbed their rifles and fired away, but Ceres' skills on the MechaWorker helped evade each shot. The Sacred Mechanoids followed as Ceres pressed a few buttons.

"Let's see Wahan's new masterpiece!" he sneered as the MechaWorker jumped. It flew into the Swan's docking bay as Wahanly, Yukine and Aura emerged. Wahanly's MechaWorker had a rail gun attached.

"Ash, Ceres and Hazuki are on board," Aura reported.

"Now, we wait for Kenshi and Chiaia to return," Wahanly advised. "Though, I don't like the look of things, especially those shields." Aura and Yukine used their rifles on the rogue Sacred Mechanoids but their shields absorbed each shot. "Great, those must be prototypes of the Shield of Gaia!"

"Wait, are you saying those are replicas?" questioned Aura.

"Yeah, they're copied like Gaia." She fired a round from her rail gun but the shield blocked it. Wahanly freaked. "My gunpowder's ineffective!"

"Just hold on a little longer!" urged Aura.

"I'm trying!" Suddenly, an extending blade reached at a Sacred Mechanoid before it was blocked… or that appeared as the blade pierced through the shield. The blade quickly retracted as Excalibur appeared. Ash smirked inside, ready to combat the new threat.

"All hail… EXCALIBUR!" he shouted. He faced the Sacred Mechanoids as Kenshi and Chiaia appeared on an air bike.

"There he is!" a third rogue Sacred MechaMaster growled. They began to shoot at the air bike but Kenshi steered around each bullet.

"Kenshi, hurry in!" called out Wahanly. "Your Sacred Mechanoid has the upgrades!" Kenshi drove the air bike into the docking bay as Excalibur fought with the Ena Sword and Shield of Hikari and the rogue Sacred Mechanoids deflecting each slash.

"No way will I let some little brat beat me!" shouted the first rogue Sacred MechaMaster. Excalibur saw the charging Sacred Mechanoid and swung a backhand with the Shield of Hikari. The shield smash clocked the rogue Sacred Mechanoid backwards before she recovered. Ash now stood by Aura and Yukine when a roar bellowed from the docking bay. Emerging was Kenshi's White Sacred Mechanoid. Inside, Lashara and Maria were watching the battle with Pikachu on Chiaia's shoulder.

"Our star's arrived," Lashara sneered. Maria snickered to the advantage. The White Sacred Mechanoid raced in and carved pass the replica shields and slicing through the frames and dodging shots. One more rouge Sacred Mechanoid staggered back and turned to see Excalibur leaping at her.

"You won't get through!" she snapped. That's when Excalibur appeared behind the Sacred Mechanoid with the Ena Sword now powered. Without warning, the legs of the Sacred Mechanoid were sliced off, and the Sacred MechaMaster screamed in pain. Lashara and Maria gasped as Pikachu recognized the move.

("Aipom see, Aipom do!") he snickered.

"Wait, what did Ash just do?" wondered Maria. In slow motion, Excalibur tucked itself and rolled over the rogue Sacred Mechanoid and as it straightened out, it spun around and sliced the rogue Sacred Mechanoid by the legs with the Ena Sword. With all the rogue Sacred Mechanoids disabled, the Swan was ready to move.

"Ash, Aura, board the Swan and watch guard from starboard and port!" commanded Lashara. "Kenshi, Yukine, guard around the sides!" The Swan emerged from the hangar bay and began to fly. More rogue Sacred Mechanoids with the same prototype shield flew above, near the rim of the Barrier Workshop.

"Guys, we're in trouble!" warned Ash. True to his guess, an explosion ripped a huge gash of the Barrier Workshop's rim and began to fall directly onto the Swan and Lashara gasped.

"We can't escape!" she shrieked. Without warning, Kenshi flew up and braced for the land to crash.

"KENSHI!" gasped Aura, Wahanly, Chiaia and Yukine. Excalibur prepared his Ena Sword. By some miracle, Kenshi's Sacred Mechanoid caught it while holding it up with a mysterious force.

"Come on, Kenshi…" growled Ash. When the force was further applied. The debris quickly converted to heavy black bullets.

"Awesome!" laughed Kenshi. "This should be enough!" He turned to Wahanly and her MechaWorker. "Wahan, let me see that rail gun!" Wahanly obliged and Kenshi took the rail gun from the MechaWorker before loading the new bullets. Now, he pointed the rail gun up to the Sacred Mechanoids and their prototype shields. "Despite the power reactor's output in the upgrades, its power's increasing." Ash swooped in front of Kenshi with the Shield of Hikari ready to defend his partner. The rail gun charged up, the power rapidly skyrocketing from Kenshi's grip. "HERE I GO!" With the pull of the trigger, the rail gum fired the rounds at the flying Sacred Mechanoids, their shields up… but the rounds sheered through the shields. Wahanly's face was of astonishment.

"So cool…" she shuttered with a smug.

"Holy cow…" gulped Ash. "Power I can't handle…" Kenshi fired more shots, tearing though the shields like arrows through paper. The rogues realized they stood no chance with the rail gun and the ammo.

"We take a hit without our shields, we're done for!" another rogue Sacred MechaMaster cried.

"Retreat for now!" one more rogue Sacred MechaMaster ordered. The rogue Sacred Mechanoids flew off, defeated. Kenshi turned to Wahanly.

"Wahan, this new model is awesome!" he cheered.

"No, Kenshi," she chuckled. "You are the one who's awesome." The Swan carried its way to the surface and left the Barrier Workshop. After a day to rest and fly to a new destination. In the meeting room, the Swan's occupants gathered, minus Maria, Yukine, Ceres and Hazuki. Chiaia paced around the room. The thoughts of Mexiah/Doll's origins bothered her while Ash stood in the far side. Lashara and Kenshi sat on one sofa as Wahanly and Aura sat on the other with Pikachu on Wahanly's lap. Chiaia's pacing irritated Lashara's nerves.

"Just calm down, Chiaia," she advised. "Doll, or Mexiah, we guess we should say, clearly didn't come to the Workshop just to do harm to your father."

"I know, but still!" snapped Chiaia.

"If Mexiah wanted to battle me, I wouldn't have minded," Ash groaned. "It's just that I didn't know what Rea wanted from that thing she had. I take blame for not stopping her."

"You mean Neizai?" corrected Lashara. "We do not know of her true intention but we do doubt she's working with the Shitoreyu Empire." Ash sighed, feeling betrayed.

"And that thing Rea- I mean, Neizai took?" he asked.

"It's a device that deletes data of Core Crystals," Wahanly briefed. This made Kenshi and Lashara glance to Wahanly. "In short, if the Core Crystal's data is erased from the artificial being, the being cannot pilot a Sacred Mechanoid."

"Let me put it this way," Aura coughed. "If this device was used on you, it would be useless." Ash nodded, believing he's safe.

"The thing is," Wahanly continued. "It's the only surefire way of stopping Gaia. However, there's a catch." To Chiaia, a fear arose.

"If Mexiah's the one in Gaia…" she brought up.

"The device would erase Mexiah for good and she'll be nothing but a husk for a body," Wahanly concluded. "Believe me, it wasn't easy for Naua considering that he fathered you and Mexiah." Chiaia cringed, thinking of Mexiah's sacrifice.

"That's horrible!" she cried.

"Keep in mind that to stop Gaia, two Sacred MechaLords were needed and one Sacred MechaMaster died," Aura reminded. "Let's not forget that we have one Sacred MechaLord with Excalibur." Ash blinked to the notice.

"Wait, I thought Excalibur was a Sacred Mechanoid, not a Sacred MechaLord," he recalled.

"In fact, Ash," Lashara shrugged. "Yours is the first Sacred MechaLord to exist." Ash closed his eyes, trying to ponder to point.

"I'm not sure if I should be proud or upset that I wasn't told of this sooner," he muttered as Maria and Yukine entered.

"I have bad news," the princess spoke up. "We tried to use Kenshi's bullets as an energy source… but they're insufficient." Everyone looked to the princess and her attendant, including Ash.

"Seeing how much power the rail gun had when Kenshi used them, were they too powerful?" he guessed.

"Exactly… and we don't know how else to recycle them," Yukine confirmed. Ash stood up.

"Maybe not as an energy source to power the Swan, but it's a step to beat Gaia, even without the device," he pronounced. All turned to Ash.

"So, you're willing to risk my sister's life and memory!?" snapped Chiaia.

"Your sister challenged me and I'm willing to uphold this challenge," Ash replied. "I know I can do it."

"But you can't!" shouted Wahanly.

"I know that I can!" responded Ash. "Besides, we don't need that device on Mexiah or Babalun!"

"But it's too risky!" cried Aura.

"And what do you want me to do!?" hollered Ash. "Nothing!?"

"Enough!" shouted Kenshi. Everyone now turned to the Swan's King. "Look, we can't just yell to get our way! We need to calm down and think about a process!" Everyone calmed down but Ash still looked prepared for a fight. Outside on the Swan's deck, Ash looked to the path in the draft. He wondered if what he said, he could back it up. Wahanly, Aura and Pikachu spotted Ash with Wahanly stomping to him.

"You can be unbelievable at the worst of times!" she scowled. "What happened to you!?" Ash didn't look at Wahanly while Pikachu watched on helplessly. "You used to be so kind, considerate, helpful… and now, it means nothing!? What is it that did this to you!? Excalibur!? Dagmeyr!? Mexiah!?" Ash scoffed to Wahanly's claims as he turned to her.

"It'll all work out, Wahan!" he replied. Wahanly didn't trust his low-sounding demeanor.

"Coming from you, I doubt it! Here you are, a kid who now thinks he can stop Gaia without hurting Mexiah because he has a few moves!" She flashed a finger pointing at Ash's nose. "Newsflash, Ash: Gaia is a supreme Sacred MechaLord! Excalibur is a step or two down in power from Gaia! When did you go from carefree to careless!?" Ash didn't flinch while Lashara and Maria started to come out.

"I said Gaia is beatable as it is! I'm not sugarcoating this at all!" Wahanly began knocking on Ash's head.

"Hello…! Geminar to Ash! Shield of Gaia is impenetrable!" She stopped the knocking but continued to scorn. "Gaia is too strong!" Ash didn't budge.

"You're all overestimating Babalun's capabilities! I know we have what it takes to win!" Finally, Aura stepped in.

"After that outburst in the meeting room, you're in over your head!" she denounced. Ash stood his ground.

"No, I know what we need to do!" he shouted back. "Sure, Rea or Neizai stole the device, but we don't need it! And when you say the shield's impenetrable, it's baloney!" Recalling the argument, Aura sensed Ash's intention.

"And this is what is making you want to throw your life away!?" she reminded. "Knowing that Bablun could kill you at the moment he has you in his sights!?"

"Who's throwing their lives away!?" demanded Ash. "I know what we're up against and beside-" Without warning, Aura smacked Ash with a backhand to his face. Lashara and Maria gasped to the smack while Ash's knees buckle, but doesn't fall. Pikachu winced and Wahanly cringed to the slap.

"Ouch…" she gulped. "I know he needs a reality check, but yikes." Ash stood firm on his feet, but didn't face Aura.

"I do agree with Wahan that going after Babalun and Gaia is a recipe for disaster," she continued as she rested her hand. "That doesn't give you the right to overturn our decision for this. I do agree that your Sacred MechaLord is powerful enough and your piloting skills are exceptionally high, but Gaia is on another level and simply attacking it won't do the damage needed to stop it. Besides, if Babalun goes down, Ulyte or Dagmeyr will be in charge and the cycle will begin again." Lashara and Maria rushed in to see if Ash was hurt.

"Tell us that Princess Aura's wrong, Ash!" begged Lashara. "You're not gonna fight Babalun and Gaia alone!"

"Don't you love us, Ash!?" added Maria. "Even after the love we've given to you!?" Ash dipped his head and snickered.

"Okay, everyone is misinterpreting my intention," he sighed. "I never said I was fighting Gaia and Babalun alone." This made Aura curious.

"If that is true," she asked. "The what are you saying? Why not just spill the beans?" Ash composed himself and took a breath.

"I know that Gaia and Babalun are beatable… but as a team. Those prototype shields show a hole in protecting the Sacred Mechanoids that Pikachu's able to exploit. Sure, the Shield of Gaia has a lot of defense, but I can find and pry it shield open." Turning to Wahanly, Ash felt ready to explain. "Wahan, how good are you with explosive material?" Wahanly seemed a little stunned.

"A little okay…" she stuttered. "I mean… combustible material isn't really something to write to the Barrier Workshop about…"

"It's a great start: something to bother the shield and find an opening to stop Babalun for good," Ash stated. To Aura, Ash wasn't thinking of battling Gaia himself.

"Wait, I don't understand," she gulped. "Are you seriously implying that this is a team effort? It's not you and Kenshi in this?"

"Princess Aura, there's no 'I' in team as Kenshi told me. It's why we can do it." Realizing Ash's purpose, the girls giggled to the reincarnated Ashvalha's king's confidence. Aura became sympathetic to her action.

"Ash, I'm… sorry for slapping your face like that," she apologized. Ash shook his head.

"Don't be," he politely refused. "I know it came out wrong." Lashara and Maria were happy that the scene ended before anything serious descended.

"That's a relief," Lashara smiled.

"Agreed," Maria nodded. "Bedlam would be the last thing to plague the Swan." Chiaia came out to see the situation resolved.

"I see that I didn't need to intervene," she snickered. She made her way to Ash and the girls. "Alright, we've reached an agreement." Hearing this, everyone was curious.

"What's this agreement, Chiaia?" wondered Lashara.

"We're going to Yukine's village down the draft from here," Chiaia replied. This made everyone blink in befuddlement. They wanted to hear the explanation so they journeyed back to the meeting room. Aura tapped Ash's shoulder before leaning in and kissing Ash on the cheek, the same one she struck. Ash's face became red with embarrassment. A couple of hours later, the Swan landed and the occupants disembarked. They looked up on an enormously large stalagmite-like mountain.

"It's… huge!" gasped Lashara.

"It's the village's deity as they worship this monolith of a mountain," Maria explained. "Occasionally, they conduct rituals, ceremonies and sermons around here."

"That's definitely worshiping this place," Ash gulped.

("So much to ask about climbing it,") Pikachu muttered from Wahanly's head.

"So, this will be the source for the main weapon?" questioned Lashara.

"Over our dead bodies!" someone behind them shouted. All turned to find men and women surrounding the group. "This place is sacred, we won't let you do a thing to change it!" Yukine came forward to reason with the villagers.

"We need to," she softly replied. The head villager groaned.

"Yukine, you're from a long line of priestesses who've sworn to protect this deity," he argued, "We won't let some ruffian desecrate it in a war that we deserve no part of!" The girls turned to the villagers while Ash and Kenshi looked on and Pikachu and Koro mounting Ash's shoulders.

"So, let me get this straight," started Ash. "This monolith is gonna turn into a sword?"

"I know, right?" grinned Kenshi. "There's a special mineral that Wahan says would be strong enough to take on Gaia. Who knows, you may be the one to wield it like the actual Excalibur from Ye Olde England." He proceeded onward toward the gate while the villager argued with Maria and Yukine.

"You should know well enough that no one has passed the barrier for 15 years!" he bellowed. "Not since your grandmother passed away, not a single soul has passed the barrier- AH!" His gawk was seeing Kenshi beyond the gate. "Hey! You! You're not allowed to go pass the barrier!" Kenshi gawked and turned, bowing to the villager.

"I'm sorry!" he freaked. Flustered, Chiaia ran after Kenshi.

"What are you doing!?" she shouted. "Are you trying to embarrass us!?" Just as she was near Kenshi, a force repelled her back to Ash who caught her. She seemed surprised. "What the heck!?" Ash blinked to the barrier before an idea rang.

"Let me try something," he issued. "Pat the force and let me see if I can get through." Chiaia blinked but nodded, thinking Ash wanted to debunk it. Everyone else but the head villager looked on in shock as Kenshi passed the force, but not Chiaia and Ash wanted to see for himself.

"I swear, kids these days have no respect anything holy," he grumbled as he turned away from the action as Ash slipped pass the gate while Chiaia patted the force. "They treat places like this as if it's a tourist attraction." Upset, he turned to Yukine. "And you, Yukine… You should know better than to bring your friends to frolic!" Yukine yanked on the villager's robe and turned him around.

"Please, look," she urged. The villager watched in astonishment as Ash and Kenshi were beyond the barrier, but Chiaia, Pikachu and Koro couldn't.

"Now, there's two!?" the villager snapped. "You two, get back here this instant!" Ash turned to the villager with a smug look.

"Sure, if you can tell us why we can pass the barrier and Chiaia can't," he urged. Finally, the villager collapsed to his frail knees, as did everyone else.

"Well, well…" sneered Maria. "Seems like now that he's finally caught on." The rest of the people fell to their knees.

"IT'S A MIRACLE!" they cried out. A little while later, the Swan's crew were in the holding bay where new Sacred Mechanoids were on display.

"This new Sacred Mechanoid can move in bursts, even with a small output," Wahanly explained. "Not to mention its Operational Limit's been upgraded big time!" She let out a sigh. "I wish I had enough for everyone but don't panic, they'll be complete for the siege on the Holy Land. Anyway, Kenshi has the main one and we can share on the other two."

"Sounds good," Aura, Yukine and Chiaia agreed.

"Kenshi, don't compress it more than 20 M on one go, okay?" warned Wahanly. "Otherwise, your powers will fry the mainframe." Kenshi nodded. Operations were underway. Ash was with Wahanly as they prepared to compress the monolith.

"So, what's in the monolith that you're converting into a sword?" he asked.

"It's not exactly in the monolith but it's how Kenshi compressed that giant chunk of land falling onto the Swan and used it to destroy those replicas," Wahanly briefed. "The Swan's like that but this hunk of rock is more suitable for the job once compressed enough."

"I see… and with Kenshi's Ena conversion, he could shape it into what he wants."

"Exactly." Suddenly, the monolith was aglow. In a flash, the monolith began to thin. Everyone gasped to the impact.

("It's… smaller!?") gawked Pikachu.

"That's… terrifying," shuttered Maria. "All on one shot." Kenshi took a moment to catch his breath. Wahanly gave a list to Ash.

"Here, see if the village can provide us with this," she ordered. Ash studied the list and nodded.

"Sure, I'll be back," he agreed before leaving for the village in a MechaWorker. In the village, he asked around for where to get the items that were on Wahanly's list. When he turned to one direction, Lan was there in a brown leather jacket and denim slacks. Lan also spotted Ash, meeting eye-to-eye. 'Lan?'

'The boy…' she thought. "Funny that we meet out here in the village."

"At least one of us is laughing. How's Dagmeyr doing?"

"Oh, he'll be well rested when we face off against you in the Holy Land. Still, I wasn't expecting a young man like yourself to pilot a relic such as Excalibur. It must be quite the honor."

"If we were still friends, I wouldn't mind sparring with you in seeing how well we're doing."

"And that would be tempting on its own merit." That's when Lan felt something and pulled out a hologram. She pulled it out and Ulyte appeared.

"Oh, Ash…" he greeted. "It's nice to see you. It's a rather interesting surprise that you're not helping Sir Kenshi or your friends on the Swan that I heard is its own country." Ash sighed to Ulyte's comment.

"Actually, I'm running a few errands for them," he corrected.

"Oops… my mistake. Anyway, my nephew is gearing up for the rematch against you, Ash. You know him, always striving to be the best to please his father." The mention made Ash turn his head.

"At least he has a dad, even though he's a bit insane."

"Ah, so you were raised by a single mother… How would she feel, knowing that her son is the pilot of a legendary Sacred MechaLord?" Ash didn't budge, knowing full well that Delia wasn't the topic. "Anyway, you may have the Shield of Hikari but that can't be enough with what we have in store."

"You've got new weapons as well?"

"Clearly… but we won't reveal until you come to us… that is, if you can." The hologram turned off as Lan pocketed the device.

"In all honesty, I'd like to have front row seats between you and Babalun," Lan sneered. "Who knows, I may get to see it. Later!" She walked off and Ash sensed trouble.

'If we can get back to the Holy Land?' he thought before a grin appeared. 'Challenge accepted.' Back at the monolith which was getting compressed more and held by the other Sacred Mechanoids, tents were set up after Ash returned with the supplies and food.

"We see," Lashara realized. "Coming from a trainer who travels across regions, you'd have to have shade to help rest our Sacred MechaMasters."

"Well, I figured witht this big guy," Ash huffed. "It would need at least a couple of days and some extra food to supply their needs to recover." Lashara's nod confirmed her trust with Ash.

"At least you've made yourself useful while unable to compress like Kenshi."

"I have to do some heavy lifting while here." When the Sacred Mechanoid's Operational Limit ran dry, Ash and Maya would help Kenshi and the girls into the tents. Ash even carried both Lashara and Maria to beds when they zonked on the table. As Ash was about to leave, Maria pulled Ash to between the cousins and was forced to sleep with the two. Ceres and Hazuki helped prepare meals with Ash to further replenish everyone. The process continued for days and everyone did what they could to chip in. Ceres even had a chance at the Sacred MechaMaster duties. One morning, the monolith was ¼ of its original size but Lashara and Maria realized a problem.

"The monolith's definitely getting smaller," Lashara noticed. "But, the weight will remain the same."

"Even though they're taking turns, fatigue has to be setting in drastically," Maria added. Ash felt uneasy as the compressed monolith deterred to one side. Kenshi, Chiaia and Aura struggled to hold it up. In Excalibur, Ash appeared.

"Alright, I've been on the sidelines long enough," he announced.

"Good, they'll need fresh bodies in mind," Maria chimed in. Suddenly, the cries of Koro. Lashara and Maria gasped to the realization.

"This isn't good," Lashara cringed. "And during the process." Ash figured whoever was attacking was after the monolith and the Sacred Mechanoids.

"Well, this is as good of a time to get these guys off our backs," he sneered. Excalibur spotted MechaWorkers racing to the scene. Leading the group was Lan. Ash grinned as he raced after the fleet. "Let's see these upgrades in action!" With Ash racing after Lan's fleet, he became the barrier between Lan and Kenshi. He felt alone but ready to fight.