Ash and Wally had a hard time hanging onto their new masks as they ran through the crowd, trying to make it to the bus in time. Both boys promised each other not to mention what happened to their friends, no matter how exciting it was. By the time they got there, nearly everyone was all set to go, and their bus was almost completely filled with passengers. Niko was jotting down the names of those who were getting aboard. The two boys finally made it to the end of the line just as the last Trainer was getting on. Niko eyed them sternly as they climbed up and sat down, but not a word came out of his mouth.
"That was invigorating," May cheered as the buses headed up the hill and out of town, "I'm going to recommend Crazy Tracy's Health Spa to everyone back home."
"You boys should really stop by for a massage," Marina said, "Tracy's a genius."
"Man, how does anyone hit those targets?" Jimmy asked forlornly, "I couldn't even hit one."
"It's like Pokémon Training," Brendan explained, "All it takes is a little practice."
Max then spotted the masks in Wally's hands, "Wow, those are cool; did you get those at the Mask Shop?"
Wally smiled, "Awesome, huh? And it was a two-for-one deal, too."
"Yours looks a little expensive, Ash," Brock said.
Ash held up the Hero's Charm for his friends to see, "Not really; Maestro Masque actually gave me a good price for it."
May couldn't help making a face at the sight of such a mask, "It looks weird – almost like a skull with big eyeballs."
While everyone laughed at this remark, Ash glanced out the window. The bus stopped at a red light and people began to cross the street. Out of the corner of his eye, Ash thought he saw a familiar face in the crowd. Squinting, he was able to get a better look, and nearly jumped.
On the side of the road, where he was looking, stood the same young boy dressed in black. The two boys locked eyes on each other; the stranger staring intently at him. Ash felt a little uncomfortable and tried to turn away, but the unknown boy's stare seemed to force him otherwise. Suddenly, for the first time, he actually noticed the eyes: first, they were a deep purple, then gradually turned dark red the longer he stared.
With a start, Ash pulled away from the window. He sank back into his chair, relieved to finally be free of that boy's hypnotic gaze.
"Ash, you look like you saw a ghost," Brock said with curiosity, "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," he replied forcing a smile, "It's just that I thought…" Ash stopped. He'd turned back around to show them who he'd seen, but the boy had vanished once again.
Back at the palace, everyone headed to their rooms to put their purchases away. Ash took special care to hide his new mask under the mattress. Other kids were putting away more clothes and stuff in drawers and closets. All the while, their conversations kept revolving around the Tournament and how many Pokémon they would be allowed to use.
The mention of Pokémon made Ash feel a little unhappy. His friends – including Pikachu – had always been with him since he started his journey. Being without them, whether it was for an hour or a few days, made him feel somewhat incomplete.
"Hey, guys," he said as he stood back up, "I'm going to take a walk around the palace for a while. Anybody interested?"
Max looked at him and said, "We just got back from town, Ash. Don't tell me you want some fresh air already."
"Nah, I just want to see more of this place, that's all."
"Sounds good," Brock said, "Maybe I'll come too."
The two boys left the tower and started down the stairs. On the way they took another look at all the beautiful paintings and statues. The old painting of Ancient Hyrule fascinated Ash a lot more than any of the others; it was hard for him to believe that such a beautiful kingdom would end up buried at the bottom of the ocean for nearly a thousand years.
At the end of one corridor, they came to a large wooden door. "It's not locked," Ash said as he tried it, "let's look in here."
"Uh, I don't think we'd be allowed," Brock said cautiously.
"There's no 'Keep Out' sign, so it can't be off limits."
"Good point," Brock confessed. Feeling curious, they pushed it open and walked inside.
Ash and Brock found themselves in a medium-sized room. The stone walls were lined with glass display cases, each one filled with different kinds of weapons. Swords, spears, shields, and daggers used by ancient knights were the most prominent artifacts. There was even a case that contained boomerangs of various sizes. According to the description card, some were children's toys, and others were used by hunters and warriors.
Soon, Ash came to a case with three curved swords inside it. The weapons themselves, he thought, couldn't have come from Hyrule because they didn't match the style. But then the description on the card caught his eye:
Gerudo Scimitars (2000-3000 years old)
The Gerudo, a fierce tribe of warrior women, hailed from the deserts west of Hyrule. Proclaiming themselves as "chivalrous," they never stole from women or children, and held a high regard for life.
According to Gerudo lore, only one male child was born within the tribe every one-hundred years. The child, considered to be a blessing from Din - the Goddess of Power, was taught the ancient secrets of the tribe, and trained to be their king and protector. This might also authenticate the myth that all masonry work in the tribe was done by women. Buildings, temples, and bridges of Gerudo origin were never made by a single man, and the tribal women would never let outsiders within their boundaries.
It was also said that anyone who wished to become a Gerudo, or young tribal girls who came of age, were required to go through rigorous training and complete dangerous challenges. Punishment for failure varied through the ages: ranging from either banishment, wandering through the desert, or death.
"Sound like a pretty strict bunch," said Brock, who had come over and read the card over Ash's shoulder.
"Yeah, I don't think Misty would feel at home with those girls," Ash quipped. The two boys were so busy laughing that they didn't hear the door slowly creak open behind them. Instead, they kept walking to the back of the room to gaze at more of the ancient weaponry.
"Look at these," Brock pointed to a case in the far back, "weird, huh?"
Ash, who was just staring at an old suit of armor, walked over to the case. Inside were four strange objects. They were strange contraptions indeed: ranging from small to large size, and appeared to contain hooks, chains, and springs. The boys were about to read the card when they suddenly became aware of a presence behind them.
Although nearly frozen with fear, the two of them slowly turned around. Their eyes widened when they found themselves face to face with a mean looking creature. It was almost completely white; its claws, tail, face, and one large horn were bluish black. The creature looked menacingly at them, its teeth bared and the fur standing on end.
"What's an Absol doing in a place like this?" Ash whispered frantically to his friend.
"I don't know," Brock replied nervously, "but I don't think it wants us here, either."
"Yeah, let's get out of here."
"Walk slowly; any sudden moves might cause it to attack."
Ash and Brock made slow steps towards the door, being careful not to make the Absol even angrier. They had just come within a foot of the exit when Brock's elbow unintentionally grazed a spear, causing it to fall over. Ash quickly grabbed the artifact before it hit the ground. However, the Absol's eyes blazed and it howled with terrifying ferocity.
"Oh great, now I did it!" Brock said through clenched teeth.
"Quick," Ash instructed, "let's run out and shut it in!" He grabbed the door knob and yanked it open, but stopped dead in his tracks.
Standing in the hallway was a young girl, no older than Ash and wearing a light pink summer dress. She had golden hair that reached the middle of her back, bright blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. The girl shouted in surprise when the two of them nearly ran into each other. She was just about to speak when the Absol's growls reached her ears.
"There you are, Sheik," the girl said, walking over to it. The Absol, recognizing the newcomer, sat down and sadly hung its head.
"Naughty boy, you should know better." She then turned to the boys, "I hope he didn't scare you."
"Us?" Brock said, "Nah, I knew he wouldn't hurt us."
Ash grinned at him, "Oh yeah, then how come your knuckles were so white?"
The girl giggled cheerfully and walked back over to them, "I'm sorry, Sheik gets a little protective around strange people. Once you get acquainted, though, he's actually very friendly."
"Well, glad to meet you, Sheik," Brock said, putting his hand out to the creature's nose. Sheik returned the gesture with a snarl, causing the teenager to jump back. Ash, however, received a cautious sniff and a friendly lick when he tried.
"I guess it's our fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Ash explained, "We were just looking around and couldn't help walking in here."
Still the girl smiled, "Yes, my grandfather has a strong interest in ancient weapons; he says that it gives us insight into how our ancestors struggled to survive their hardships."
Brock nodded, "Interesting philosophy...wait, your grandfather?"
Suddenly, the young girl gasped, "Oh, that's right; it is always proper for a young lady to introduce herself to her guests." She curtsied modestly to them and said, "I am Celia, Princess of the Great Sea."
Ash gasped himself; so she was King Lorenzo's granddaughter, the owner of that Pikachu he found in the castle's main hall, and the one who admired him. His mouth began to feel dry again, what would she do when she found out who he was? Maybe she already knew – and she had him cornered! How was he going to get out of this situation?
"My name's Brock," his friend spoke up, "I come from Pewter City in Kanto, and I'm learning to become a Pokémon breeder."
"It sounds very interesting, Brock, and I wish you well in fulfilling your dream," Celia commented politely before turning back to Ash, "And you are?"
"Uh, me?" Ash stammered, "well, uh...I'm...uh, that is, I..."
"This is Ash Ketchum," Brock cut in, "He's from Pallet Town, that's in Kanto too. But you probably know a lot about him already, Your Highness, considering..."
"Brock, stop!" Ash exclaimed, trying to clamp a hand over his mouth and looking very embarrassed.
"It's alright," Celia said, "Not many people are permitted to be in the presence of royalty. Yet, it is also rare to find one's self in the presence of a well-known Pokémon Trainer." She curtsied to Ash again, "It is an honor to finally meet you, Mr. Ketchum."
Ash's face reddened, but he tried to be as polite as possible, "Please, Your Highness, call me Ash; I mean, we're all friends here, right?"
"Of course," Celia replied with a friendly giggle, "and you many call me Celia. Like my grandfather, I don't care for flattery - except on occasion, and I prefer that people say what they think."
"Well, I think we're going to get along great," Ash announced.
A few minutes later, Celia and Sheik walked with the two boys to the Southern Tower. As they walked on, Ash began to tell his new friend about some of their sillier adventures: like the time they helped try to catch a Sudowoodo to determine whether it was a Rock-type or a Grass-type. Brock just smiled as he listened; it was always nice to make a new friend, royal or otherwise.
Brock was the first one to go through the tower doors when they arrived. Ash was just about to turn and say good-bye when Celia suddenly took him aside.
"Forgive me, Ash, but I must ask you something."
"Could I ask you to meet me in the garden tomorrow afternoon? I want to discuss something important with you."
"Sure, but why not now?" Ash asked.
"I will explain everything when you come. And here," she gave him a folded piece of paper, "If any guards try to stop you, show them this letter; they will not hesitate to let you pass." With that, Celia turned and walked quickly down the hall with Sheik following close behind.
Ash just looked on as she disappeared from view. What could be so important that she couldn't tell him right then and there? While he pondered this, everyone began filing out into the hallway. Niko was in front ushering them into single file when he spotted Ash.
"So there you are," he said gruffly, "and where have you been?"
"Talking with the Princess," Ash replied as he stuffed the letter into his pocket, "she just left."
"Well the next time you go running off by yourself, at least take a tour guide with you; maybe then you won't get lost. Now, get in line with the others; it's almost dinnertime, and we don't want to be late."
Ash glanced at his watch and saw that it was only 5:30, "It's a bit early for dinner, isn't it?"
"That's enough excuses, now scoot!"
Ash joined his friends among the crowd and they all headed downstairs. Everyone wanted to know what the Princess was like and kept bombarding him with questions. Neither one received an answer, and soon turned their attention to dinner and their empty stomachs.