Author Notes: Chapter 41 is here! Enjoy!

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Chapter 41 — Our Family

Ash looked on with a wistful smile as Latios and Latias swiftly disappeared into the distance. He remained silent for a moment and sighed. "So, what do we do now?" he asked while turning to face his group of friends.

"Not get in trouble, ideally," Pikachu answered drily. "I'd love some peace for once."

Ash chuckled and gently scratched Pikachu's chin. "Come on, buddy. We're not that bad."

"I guess we should just wait here for Latios and Latias to return?" Bianca suggested. "But we don't know how long they'll take. Or where they're going exactly."

"We could explore for a bit, instead?" Brock offered while motioning to their surroundings with the wave of an arm. "This is a new place for us and it'd be a good way to wind down. Plus, I doubt we'll ever return here." He shrugged. "You know, just go sightseeing and have some fun."

"What if we get lost?" Bianca asked. "We don't have a map of this place, and I doubt our PokéNav maps work here. I doubt maps exist of this place, even."

"Well, that's why we're here," Ozul commented offhandedly. "And don't worry, should Latias and Latios return and not find you here, we can guide them back to you. Assuming Savannah doesn't beat us to it, that is."

Brock glanced at the Drakloak who leisurely levitated at his side. "Well, in that case, we can go anywhere we want, right?"

Kaidra nodded enthusiastically. "Pretty much!" She hummed for a moment and adopted a thoughtful expression. "There are only a few areas where I'd suggest not going, but we'll let you know if you venture close to them. Other than that, go ahead."

"Such as?" Bianca asked curiously, walking closer to the pair.

"Well, any of the nurseries, to start," Kaidra answered. "Or any of the known breeding grounds. We can have extremely vicious breeding cycles and you probably don't want to get caught between them. The Pillar itself as well, unless any of the family or Savannah approves of that." She shrugged while her tail swayed lazily behind her. "They probably won't mind but I'd rather ask them first. Hmm, there are a few dragons who I know are way too territorial to allow anyone on their turf. Among other things. But that's about it."

"Nurseries?" Brock repeated while raising an eyebrow. "You guys have nurseries here?"

Kaidra tilted her head and gave Brock a confused expression. "Yeah, why wouldn't we? It's a basic necessity."

"Good point I guess," Brock acquiesced. "It's just odd to hear that from a Pokémon, seeing as you guys usually just, well, nest in the wild."

"Some do, yeah, fair point. In our case, they're designated as such by the gods so residents of any kind can lay their eggs and raise their hatchlings in peace. Any kind of violence is strictly forbidden in them." Kaidra paused and chuckled. "Well, it's not like humans are forbidden there, but it's best not to stress out mothers and babies by introducing something as foreign as humans into what they know is a safe area."

"That's pretty neat, actually," Brock admitted. "So, are you guys part of a society and have an organization in the region? Savannah almost sounded like your equivalent of a governor, even."

"If you were to apply human terms here, you could call her that," Ozul confirmed. "Savannah's word is the law when no Legendary of the main family is present. It's not just because she's Rayquaza's Marked, either. Dragon social hierarchies value strength above all and she's easily the strongest non-Legendary here. As for Sky Pillar, it does have an organization. It's not like the regular wilderness you'd find in other regions."

Kaidra laughed. "That's a way to describe her." She flew around the group and motioned to their environment. "Sky Pillar is neatly organized in that regard and we have a lot of rules here. From what and where we're allowed to hunt, to how much territory we can claim, to how far we're allowed to take fights and where, and what we can do and not do in certain areas."

Ozul pointed at the pristine lake beside them. "For example, no fighting or violence of any kind is allowed in the healing areas, either. Not just in the nurseries."

"Breaking any of those rules is usually a very quick way to end up in front of a very disappointed Savannah." Kaidra winced and giggled nervously. "I know that makes her sound scary for you guys, but she's really nice. As Rayquaza said, you can count on her to meet any of your needs if we can't."

"That's pretty astounding," Bianca marveled. "I didn't know Pokémon could organize themselves that well." She followed Ozul's pointing and focused on the lake at their side. "This lake is a hospital if you think about it."

"Yeah, I'm surprised too," Ash agreed with a nod. "I've seen Pokémon communities before on our travels, but nothing on the scale of this place. It's like a human region, just simpler."

Kaidra blinked in confusion. "Simpler? Do humans live like us? But not simple?"

Ash tapped his chin in thought. "A little bit, yeah. We just make things more complicated than this," he elaborated. "Quite a lot more complicated, actually." He chuckled heartily.

"They do," Ozul confirmed. "You'd be surprised how complicated humans can be, Kaidra."

"Huh," Kaidra mumbled. "That's a new one for me."

"Have you ever been to other regions before?" Brock asked curiously. "Like, at all?"

Kaidra shook her head. "I haven't left Sky Pillar since I was born. Never felt a reason to." Her eyes widened in delight. "Oh! Then you gotta tell me all about the outside now. I'm curious!"

Brock laughed. "Well, I can if you want."

Kaidra grinned and trembled in excitement. "That's gonna be fun."

Pikachu glanced at Ozul. "What about you?"

"I've been all over the world, basically," Ozul answered with a nonchalant shrug. "I don't venture into human cities much, but I've seen them from time to time while going about."

"So, if you guys have a societal organization, do you have designated roles?" Brock asked. "Like occupations?"

"Yeah." Kaidra nodded. "They're not mandatory, but anyone who wants something to do to pass the time can pick up a role suited for them and learn from elders or those skilled in it."

Brock slowly returned the nod. "Okay. Do you have one?"

"Yep! I'm a caretaker," Kaidra answered with a cheerful grin.

"That's amazing," Brock replied while clapping his hands once. "Humans have roles too, and I'm aiming to be the world's best Pokémon breeder."

Kaidra blinked and scratched the side of her head with her claws. "Huh… So, you breed with Pokémon?"

A deep scarlet blush immediately formed on Brock's cheeks. "Wait, wait, no! That's not what that means!"

Bianca snorted and turned around while shaking her head amid stifled laughs.

Pikachu burst out laughing raucously and almost fell off Ash's shoulder. "Oh, my…" He laughed even harder. "Can't speak!"

Ash stared at Brock and his two other friends with a very confused expression. "What's wrong?"

"What else is it supposed to mean?" Kaidra asked defensively, only confused further by their reactions. She looked up and down at Brock. "So, if you want to be the world's best breeder, how many kids do you have by now if that's your goal?"

Brock turned redder and waved his hands in protest. "No, t-that's n-not it!" he stammered. He took a deep breath to quell his embarrassment and adopted a forced neutral face. "You see, Pokémon breeding basically means learning to raise and care for Pokémon most optimally so they can grow the healthiest and strongest they can be, and also learning to nurture weakened or sick Pokémon to full recovery," he explained in a professional voice.

Kaidra stared at Brock with a blank expression for an uncomfortably long amount of time. "…So, you're a caretaker."

Brock buried his face in his hands and sighed in defeat. "Yeah… Let's just go with that, Kaidra," he said after an awkward moment of silence.

The Dreepy on top of Brock's head poked his spiky hair with a tiny claw. "Are you okay?"

Kaidra giggled. "You could've just said that from the start, you know? It's not my problem that you humans use such funny wordings." She grinned excitedly. "Anyway! If we're both caretakers, maybe we can learn from each other!"

Bianca chuckled and elbowed Brock's side. "Hey, see who does it better, wild Pokémon or humans? Don't let us down, Brock."

"I guess that settles it." Brock glanced at his friends. "Let's explore for a bit. Though, should we stay in one group? You two would get bored with us very fast once we get technical." He smirked and threw a side glance at Kaidra. "Assuming you can keep up."

Kaidra growled and narrowed her eyes competitively. "Oh, you're on."

"You guys don't have to stay together. You each have an assigned guard for that reason," Ozul pointed out. "I know Volna isn't here, but she's paying attention."

"If we split up for a bit, how do we stay in touch, just in case?" Brock wondered. "Sky Pillar is enormous from what we've seen."

"Hey, our PokéNav!" Ash reached into his backpack and took the device out. He opened it and fiddled with the touchscreen for several moments.

"Location unknown," the PokéNav said after a beep. "No signal detected," it added after another beep.

Kaidra looked at the device with confusion. "That's a funny noise."

Ash frowned and made a face. "Well, I'm not surprised. I guess that means we can't call outside."

Bianca shook her head in amusement. "Well, I doubt we've got coverage in an interdimensional continent. But maybe it has a local mode?" She took her PokéNav out, opened it, and looked through some of the settings.

"It has to," Brock agreed as he took out his PokéNav. "These are designed for trainers who travel deep into the wild. So, they should have a way to communicate reliably with other devices even far outside of city infrastructure in case of emergencies."

"It looks like it has an offline mode for local communication," Bianca murmured. The screen on her device flickered briefly and a loud beep echoed. "Ah, there we go. I think I got it."

Ash fiddled with the device's settings for a bit, laughed, and held out his PokéNav for the group to see. It displayed a message he had just sent to Bianca on its screen. "Did it work?"

Bianca's PokéNav beeped. She held it up and showed her friends its contents. "It did. We need to thank Steven and Joseph for these next time we see them."

A beep from Brock's PokéNav echoed after. He nodded in satisfaction. "Got it. Well, we can use this for the time being, then. I hope it has a good range. I've got no clue how this works but we'll use it to stay in touch with each other, just in case."

Kaidra gave them an impressed look. "So, those thingies let you talk to each other even if you're far away?"

Brock smirked and extended the hand that held the device to the Drakloak. "Yeah. Neat, huh?"

Kaidra blinked, leaned forward, and took several sniffs from it. "It smells funny, too. But it's cool!" She pulled back and looked at her Dreepy. "And here I thought I'd have to make him fly around delivering messages for us."

Brock laughed and shook his head. "There's no need for that, Kaidra."

"Aw, but I wanted to deliver messages," the Dreepy said dejectedly, slumping down on Brock's hair while letting out a muffled whine.

Brock gently petted the toddler dragon. "It's okay. We can make something work out. I don't have to use it all the time."

"Yay!" the Dreepy exclaimed excitedly. He took off from Brock's head and flew in astoundingly swift loops around him.

Kaidra giggled and leaned forward. "So, can we leave?"

Brock nodded slowly. "Yeah, I think—" He screamed as a beautiful portal of swirling violet energy abruptly opened around him. Kaidra lunged at him, shoved him into the portal, and disappeared into thin air with him along with her Dreepy.

Bianca laughed and stared at the spot their friend used to be at. "Okay, maybe Volna isn't so bad after all. Kaidra seems like a handful. Where'd she take him?"

"If I had to guess, probably the area where she's the lead caretaker. It's a healing forest in the north of Sky Pillar where she usually hangs out," Ozul answered calmly. "Don't worry, it's a very peaceful place."

Ash shook his head in amusement. "Oh boy…"

"How do those portal things work?" Bianca asked curiously. "I don't recall ghost Pokémon being able to do that on the outside."

"That's part of Sky Pillar's unique setup." Ozul looked into the distance. "This place is home to many ghosts and, as such, it's linked with a dimension called the Reverse World where ghosts come from. We can use it to travel anywhere around Sky Pillar instantaneously. It's safe for living beings, if for a short time. Just enough for a swift teleport," the Gengar explained.

Bianca hummed in thought for a moment. "Do you have any scenic places? Somewhere peaceful, calm, beautiful, with amazing views? I'd like to draw something from Sky Pillar as a memoir."

"I'll go with you," Ash offered. "I just want to relax for now, and a peaceful place sounds like a great place to do it." He gently scratched Pikachu's head. "What about you, buddy?"

"Yeah, relaxing sounds fine," Pikachu agreed while stretching on his best friend's shoulder. "I'd love that."

Ozul nodded slowly. "I know a place here where you'd enjoy just that." He motioned to his side and, abruptly, a large portal of purple energy burst to life and swirled before the group captivatingly. "Come."

Latios and Latias flew through the clear blue sky, wings firm and outstretched as they soared over the vast, beautiful, and stunning landscape below.

Latios sighed in relaxation and closed his eyes. "We haven't gotten the chance to fly with such freedom in a while. It's so refreshing. The wind, the sun…"

"We haven't, yeah," Latias agreed with a slight nod. "It's nice and relaxing, especially after what happened yesterday. Some peace of mind is nice." She glanced to the side as, in the distance, majestic mountains stretched out and towered above the clouds, their whitened peaks jagged and sharp against the horizon. Flashes from reflected sunlight occasionally gleamed against the sky, along with the distant blur of billowing snow breezes on the slopes. Her gaze trailed down the mountains and her eyes narrowed. "Hey, look at those," Latias called out. "They're so pretty."

Latios followed his sister's gaze. Near the base of one of the mountains and lumbering toward it through tall pine trees was a herd of large blue quadruped Pokémon covered in gemstones and with aurora-like sails sprouting from their long necks that flowed stunningly in the wind. "I think Ho-Oh told us about those when we were little. I don't remember their name, but she said they don't exist outside of Sky Pillar anymore."

Latias kept looking at them until they disappeared from her sight. "They're lovely. I wonder what else we'll find here." She shivered slightly. "We should move a bit further from this mountain range, though. It's getting chilly up here."

"Let's fly around it but keep a northerly track as Rayquaza instructed," Latios answered while angling his body to the side.

"Gotcha." Latias mirrored the movement and flew after her brother.

As the two dragons flew, they marveled at the beauty of the wilderness below. With the mountains long behind them, the environment under them gradually transitioned into lush green valleys split with numerous sparkling streams and rivers, with countless patches of trees of various kinds spread as far as they could see.

Latios couldn't help but feel a sense of wonder and awe. "This place is so beautiful," he commented as he looked around with widened eyes. "It's so rare to see a region without human intervention in it. The last place we flew over like this was Johto, and we saw towns and cities on it every few minutes."

"Yeah, it's surreal. It's just so different." Latias smiled peacefully. "Hey, come down Latios, let's get a closer look," she suggested as she descended toward the grasslands while enjoying the cool rush of crisp air through her feathers.

Latios chuckled and followed her. "Hey, wait up!" He leveled off with Latias and tilted his head curiously. He spotted a family of Dratini and Dragonair bathing in a clear stream, their ears flicking back and forth as they heard his approach. A large Dragonite nearby looked on at the soaring pair, eyes widened with surprise.

"I wonder if they know what we are," Latios murmured as they sped past them and left the scene far behind. "We know another Latios exists, but I wonder if there are others beyond him."

"I wouldn't know," Latias answered with a shrug. "But good question." She hummed and eyed a plume of smoke rising in the distance with interest. She angled her flight and looked on as two large Pokémon faced off, one familiar to her and the other an unfamiliar heavily-armored dragon covered in oversized scales. "A Salamence and a… Hm, what's that again?"

"Kommo-o, I believe," Latios answered after following his sister's gaze.

Oblivious to the soaring pair's presence, the Kommo-o aggressively vibrated the myriad of golden-brimmed scales that ran the length of his body, producing a violent rattling sound. The Salamence, not intimidated by the threatening display, reared back and let out a thundering roar that drowned out the rattles. The two dragons circled each other with fierce glares amid the fires around them and, as they shrunk in the distance, violently lunged at each other.

"Probably a territorial dispute or some kind of hierarchical challenge," Latios guessed. "They are Dragons, after all."

Latias smirked and shot him a knowing look. "I remember when you were young and growled at everything that got into the Secret Garden because it was your territory. And there's that time Kyogre—"

"Hush, enough of that," Latios interrupted while rolling his eyes. "I was trying to keep us safe, okay?"

Latias shook her head in amusement. "It never gets old."

Latios and Latias flew on, following the winding path of a large river as the grasslands gradually transitioned into a dense forest. They saw the sunlight glinting off the river's surface die down as the canopy and vegetation marred the water with shadows.

"I can feel Ho-Oh," Latias announced while narrowing her eyes. "She's close."

"Same, my senses just picked up her power. We're on the right track it seems," Latios added.

The forest under them sounded incredibly alive with the cries of numerous Pokémon echoing all around them and the rustling of trees amid fresh breezes. At times the forest became so thick they couldn't see anything under the tall canopies of the trees and the sounds of Pokémon turned louder.

"Huh, what's that?" Latios asked, squinting as an immense object towering over the forest came to their sight at the horizon. "I'm fairly sure we left the Pillar way back."

"It's exactly in the direction we're sensing Ho-Oh from, so I believe that's our destination," Latias answered. "I mean, it's kinda obvious."

"We haven't seen her in so long. I miss her. Let's go!" Latios abruptly sped up and broke through the sound barrier, leaving a potent thunder and blast of wind in his wake.

Latias rolled her eyes. "Wait for me!" She reared back and flew after him, causing another sonic boom that rattled the canopies around her.

Latios and Latias slowed down as the structure came closer and closer, allowing them to see that it was a tree, one so large it towered imposingly over its surroundings and dwarfed everything nearby, easily reaching a height of over a thousand feet that left the surrounding trees appearing akin to grass at its base.

Latios' eyes widened as he scanned the tree from its enormously thick trunk to the endless leaves, branches, and vines that bloomed and blotted out a large chunk of the sky at its top. "Well, that's one big tree."

Latias' ears perked, listening to the otherworldly roar the tree's swaying branches and leaves made as the wind billowed through them. "Well, I think we're finally seeing Ho-Oh's home. She's right in there."

Latios' gaze trailed downward and noted that there were no Pokémon in the tree itself, though the thick base appeared crowded by numerous nests and hollows brimming with flying-type and grass-type Pokémon of all kinds. "Yeah. Seems like." Latios reared back to fly on but hesitated for a moment. He bit his lip and looked ahead thoughtfully.

Latias smiled sadly at him, flew to his side, and gently placed a claw supportively on his neck. "Nervous? Second thoughts?"

"A little bit, yeah." Latios took several deep breaths to calm himself. "I'm eager but also afraid. There's no telling what awaits us there. It'll go either really well, or really badly. I just… don't know."

"We have to do it," Latias said encouragingly. She gently nuzzled her brother's cheek. "I'm also nervous but I want to do this. If anyone's going to tell us what's going on, it's Ho-Oh." She turned to face the tree and narrowed her amber eyes with determination. She flew ahead and looked around for an opening in the tree's crown she could fly into. "Come on. I want to get this over with."

Latios frowned nervously. "I guess." He pushed all worry to the back of his mind and ascended toward the tree's summit along with Latias.

The dragon twins leisurely flew through the canopy of the tree, skillfully weaving through a never-ending cluster of branches and cascades of leaves while powerful rustles echoed around them as the wind blew by, carrying with it the fresh scents of the tree. They arrived at a large open area near the center trunk with a particularly thick and powerful branch serving as its base.

And on that branch was Ho-Oh.

Ho-Oh's expression beamed at the sight of the dragon pair. She stood up from the beautiful polychromatic nest under her and spread her vast wings welcomingly. "Latios, Latias," she greeted gently. "I'm glad to see you're doing better."

Latios sighed and stared at the immense Legendary with a saddened smile. "Hey, Ho-Oh. Good to see you too."

"I've been waiting for you both," Ho-Oh continued with a kind tone. "I know you've had some rough days recently." Her expression grew somber while she made an encouraging gesture with her head. "Come here."

Latios hesitantly flew ahead, ever so slowly shrinking the distance between them, and pressed into Ho-Oh's breast. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, enjoying the familiar scent and presence of the fire goddess. "Ho-Oh…" he whispered while burying himself into her cozy white feathers. "Thank you so much."

Ho-Oh immediately knew what Latios referred to. She gently draped a wing over the blue dragon and let its weight rest comfortingly on top of him, pressing him deeper into her plumage. "You're welcome, sweetheart."

Latias levitated closer and smiled weakly. "Yeah, thank you, Ho-Oh. We… We don't know what we'd do if you didn't—" She grimaced and gulped audibly. She felt a cold shiver run down her spine while some of the feathers on her neck and back stood on end. "You know. That. I can't even say it…"

"I'm aware," Ho-Oh replied while giving Latias a commiserating look. "It's all okay now, isn't it? You don't have to think about it if it brings such discomfort. Ash is fine and alive in the end, enjoy that and move on. He's got a long life ahead that he can share with you. Don't miss out by dwelling on the past."

"We know, we know, but it's still a difficult thing to even fathom," Latios murmured, slightly muffled by the abundant plumage completely encasing him.

"After so much hardship thrown your way, the death of a beloved friend under unfair circumstances is the last thing you both deserve," Ho-Oh commented gently.

"Thank you, again," Latios repeated gratefully, briefly poking his head out of the radiant feathers that surrounded him. "I'm glad your power of resurrection turned out to be real. You never told us about it. We heard it in folklore after we left Alto Mare, but I didn't know if it was true or not until now."

"I've never been one to openly divulge what I can and can't do, and you know it." Ho-Oh tilted her head and gave Latias a warm expression. "Are you not coming? Let me comfort you." She invitingly spread her free wing wider.

Latias smiled softly at Ho-Oh. "I couldn't say no." She moved ahead and pressed against Ho-Oh's chest. She closed her eyes in contentment, enjoying the loving warmth that radiated out of the life Legendary's incredibly soft plumage. "Thank you, thank you for everything, Ho-Oh."

Ho-Oh wrapped her wing around Latias and let out a soft, melodic cry that resonated across the tree and let soothing vibrations rumble steadily out of her puffed chest. She reached down and gently preened the feathers on Latias' back with her large beak.

Latias let out a soft coo, relaxed visibly, and closed her eyes. "After everything we've been through lately, it's great to finally have some peace. You're… like a piece of home to us."

"Yeah," Latios murmured. "Don't get me wrong, everyone here in Sky Pillar has been wonderful to us so far. But finally seeing someone that we know and are familiar with is nice, you know?"

"Yes, I can tell." Ho-Oh pulled back and shifted to preening Latios' back, eliciting the dragon's pleased and barely-audible growl. "I haven't seen you two since Kanto. Hardships aside, I hope both of you have enjoyed your travels through Hoenn so far."

"We have, we very much have," Latios answered with a nod and a slight grin. "It's great to leave Alto Mare finally. We loved the place but the outside world is something else. It's freedom."

"Yeah, but…" Latias began while gently pushing back against the heavy wing covering her.

Ho-Oh spread the wing to give the red dragoness the open space to leave. "Yes, Latias?"

Latias flew out with a frown and levitated right in front of Ho-Oh. "Sorry if I'm being blunt. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to catch up and cuddle and talk with you and all that, but we can do that later." She sighed and bit her lip. "I'm not sure how to ask this but… you just said you know we've been through a lot lately, so you have to know where I'm going. I'd—" She glanced at the wing that held her brother to Ho-Oh's chest. "We'd like to know why it all happened. The few we've asked have told us that it's not their place to answer, but someone else's."

"Yeah, there's that." Latios pressed against Ho-Oh's wing, flew out of its tender hold, and joined his sister's side. "Even if everyone here has been very nice to us, they've still refused to give us answers. We've had no choice but to respect it. I hope you can help us out instead."

Ho-Oh cast a downward glance and appeared deep in thought. "I understand," she spoke out at last. "And, they're right. Much of this is a mess that isn't of their doing and not their place to explain to you. While their help and presence are invaluable, it's not their responsibility."

Latias blinked in confusion. She felt her empathic senses pick off an abrupt shift of emotions within the much larger Legendary, one that almost felt startling to her, one that betrayed the near-unbreakable steadfast nature she carried herself with. For a moment, the immense power and the striking intensity ever-present in Ho-Oh's ruby-red eyes faltered, and the steady calmness permanently radiating out of her distorted. Latias tensed and gulped. "Are you okay?" she asked while levitating closer.

Latios frowned and glanced at his sister out of the corner of his eyes. "Something wrong?"

"Yeah," Latias answered with concern, albeit insecurely.

Ho-Oh remained still and let a long, awkward silence only marred by the tree's permanent rustles settle in the area. She leisurely stepped off her nest and glanced repeatedly between both dragons. "As your lifelong guardian and caretaker, as the one who looked after you two ever since you hatched and came to this world, yes. I'm the one you seek for answers."

Latias sighed in relief. "Well, at least we didn't end up with another disappointment."

Latios nodded slowly in acknowledgment. "Well, that's great. Now…" He let out an involuntary growl as he went over all that happened in the previous days in his mind. "There's so much going on I don't even know where to start. Every time I think of a question, an even more important one pops out right after."

"Neither do I. It's one of those cases where it's like a web. One question just leads to even more questions," Latias admitted unhappily. "But I have a better idea." She scoffed and her eyes narrowed at the goddess of life. "You probably know better than us."

"I do. In that case, how about I start instead?" Ho-Oh offered gently while giving the pair a reassuring nod.

Latios reluctantly nodded in return. "Yes, please do, that'd be great."

Ho-Oh paused for a moment to let both Latios and Latias settle down a bit. She eyed the two dragons to gauge them and, despite their doubts and insecurity toward the current situation, saw the curiosity and determination in their gazes. "Before I start, I want to apologize to both of you in advance. We're in for a long and difficult conversation. I know you're both coming fresh out of a traumatizing and excruciating event. Giving you more grief than you've already taken isn't ideal, but you two deserve answers, and if right now is when you need them… well the timing isn't what I would choose but sometimes that is how life goes." Her expression softened. "Unless, of course, you'd rather wait until you're in a better headspace. I'd understand, too. We've got all the time in the world now to go over this, after all."

Latios grimaced and drew in a sharp breath. "I don't like the sound of that. At all."

"Neither do I," Latias agreed with a nervous shudder. "What do you think, Ho-Oh?"

"If you two want to wait and recover, or want to talk now, either option is fine," Ho-Oh answered. "I won't push you toward either path. You know yourselves well enough to make the best decision, and I'll abide by it."

Latios and Latias immediately looked at each other as if silently asking the other for their opinion. Latios faltered first and looked away. His claws flexed and a scoff escaped him. "We came all the way here for answers. Might as well get on with it, I think."

"I agree. Hey, we're already kind of messed up as it is right now, what's more trouble on top of what we've already gone through? Can't be any worse." Latias shook her head unhappily. "Honestly, at this stage, I much prefer to just know right now than to wait any longer."

"Yeah. We can just rest here without worry and process it all at our own pace if it's a lot. As Ho-Oh said, we've got plenty of time," Latios replied, though his voice remained full of doubt. He growled to cast aside any insecurity, steeled himself, and determinedly locked eyes with Ho-Oh. "Let's do it."

"While it's a long conversation that will be difficult to process at first, a lot of good should also come out of it in the long run." Ho-Oh's expression beamed with boundless pride. "You two have grown and matured so much since we last conversed at Alto Mare. Even after recent hardships, here you two are, ready to face your next endeavor with your heads held high. Always know, no matter what, that I'm immensely proud of you two." She focused on Latios. "So strong, dependable, and loyal." The fire Legendary shifted her focus to Latias. "So kind, caring, and honest."

Latios smiled with slight embarrassment and a tender blush on his cheeks. "Thank you, Ho-Oh. I'm glad you think so highly of us. We wouldn't be here without you. Not without all the time you spent with us at Alto Mare during our infancy."

Latias gently nudged her brother. "And I wouldn't be anywhere without you, Latios. Don't forget all you did for me as well."

Latios looked away with a brighter blush. "Thank you, Latias."

Ho-Oh let out a soft croon of approval. "You've both turned into a powerful and very fine pair of young dragons, and I can see how much your journey has done wonders to improve you two," she added. "You're almost unrecognizable."

"I don't quite feel the same as even a year ago," Latios agreed. "So much has happened."

"Neither do I," Latias admitted. "It doesn't feel like that long ago when I'd always hide from everything. Well, not anymore." She looked expectantly at Ho-Oh. "Not even difficult conversations. I'm ready."

Ho-Oh neatly folded her wings at her sides and roosted down comfortably. "Well, before anything is said and any question is made, and before any answer is given on my part… We need to go back to the beginning," Ho-Oh started, only drawing the attention of the two dragons further in. "And, with the beginning, there's someone very special that I'd love you two to meet. Someone who eagerly awaited this moment since before you hatched and drew your first breath." She glanced to the side and her red eyes softened.

Latios and Latias slowly followed her gaze with slight confusion and immense curiosity.

The wind billowed and, out of thin air, a torrent of dazzling blue sparkles abruptly burst into life and lit the surrounding foliage with a soft shade of blue. Latios and Latias drew in a sharp inhale, froze in shock, and their eyes widened. They knew that specific pattern of light by heart. It was identical down to its most minute detail to the light refraction of their feathers.

The blue lights swiftly faded into errant shimmers to reveal a larger Latios whose expression instantly grew to one of immense excitement upon meeting the eyes of the two younger dragons for the first time.

Latios and Latias remained stunned amid the rush of questions that coursed through them. The fact they hadn't sensed the Latios until now swiftly disappeared into the back of their minds, buried among more important matters. Yet, despite the myriad of questions and the sheer unexpectedness of his appearance, the Latios' identity wasn't one of them. They instinctively knew his identity by heart and with absolute certainty. He was their father.

The newcomer Latios' wine-red eyes moistened and his mouth curled into a soft and loving smile. He opened his mouth to speak but found that words refused to come out, held in place by the accelerated heartbeat drumming in his chest without respite and quickened breathing. "H-Hey," he spoke out at last the moment he got himself under brief control, voice deep and trembling as it brimmed with endless joy.

His voice hit Latios and Latias hard, like a vivid thunder that startled them and paralyzed all thought and emotion firmly in place. It was astoundingly different from the ethereal tone they heard when they conversed for the first time at Alto Mare, just before their departure. Now, it sounded real, and both remained shocked at how powerfully it echoed around the tree's open area, and how it resonated in their sensitive ears.

"F-Father?" Latios stuttered weakly through ceaseless trembles and ragged breathing, far too overwhelmed to voice any other coherent word. He tried to voice something else as hard as he could, anything, yet it all died in his throat and came out like a dying whimper.

Latias' heartbeat sped up and her jaw hung agape. For a moment she couldn't believe what her eyes saw and wondered if it was all one of her species' trademark illusions or some kind of trick from Ho-Oh or anyone else.

Yet, any doubts within Latias vanished when her empathic senses finally picked up on the older Latios' overwhelming torrent of emotions, from a love for her so pure and sincere it equaled the one she picked up from her brother whenever they interacted, to a sheer joy so bright it eclipsed all she had ever sensed in the past and, lastly, to a relief so deep and final that it put any doubt that dared form in her mind at ease for good.

The Latios levitating before her was real, Latias knew with absolute certainty. He was their father. And he was alive.

Latias slowly flew ahead as her face flushed, completely entranced, and with amber eyes firmly fixated ahead. After a long pause that made a thick tension permeate the chamber, a silence that lasted for so long to her, she finally found the willpower to move and abruptly darted ahead. "Dad!" she cried out as she crashed into him with potent force.

The larger Latios didn't budge despite the powerful impact. Instead, he received Latias with open arms that firmly wrapped around her. He craned his neck over her and drew her into a tight embrace. "I'm here, my baby girl, I'm here," he whispered soothingly.

Latias pressed against her father and returned the embrace, causing her claws to dig into his feathers. "I… I never… see… I—you… again," she stammered incoherently through burgeoning sobs and agitated breaths. She hiccupped and her eyes immediately moistened with tears.

Latios observed his sister and father with a dumbfounded expression, eyes widened and pupils shrunk. He remembered distant days of his childhood when he'd stare into the Soul Dew's pedestal for hours on end and wonder what his father was like, from his looks to his personality. Questions he thought would remain unanswered aside from tales from the likes of Mew and Ho-Oh.

Yet there his father was, alive. Latios slowly levitated closer to the pair, thoughtful and shocked as if he barely believed what he saw. As the young dragon drew closer, he picked up his father's distinct scent, one similar to his own yet also incredibly unique. He saw every detail in his fine plumage and how it subtly discerned into a darker shade of blue and gray from his. He heard every sound he made with each breath and movement. It all slowly confirmed to Latios that he wasn't once again reliving his most frequent and cruel nightly dream.

The elder Latios lifted his neck from Latias' side and smiled adoringly at his son. He nodded welcomingly as a couple of tears slowly trailed down his cheeks. "Come here, my little angel," he whispered.

Latios closed his eyes and a trail of tears joined his father's in rolling down his cheeks. He closed the distance ever so slowly, still surprised beyond words, and hesitantly pressed against his father's side as if he doubted that he'd feel physical contact in return. The moment he touched his father and felt the warmth of his body, as well as the softness of his fine plumage, a spasm ran up his spine that made the tears thicken and a loud sob rattle him. "Wha… How… Fa—"

"Shh, you don't have to speak," Latios, the father, chided gently as he adjusted himself to hold his son as well as Latias in the tight and protective hold of his arms. "It's okay, my children. We're together at last," he whispered so softly it barely echoed over the loud sobs around him.

Latios and Latias broke down at their father's words. Even as several Legendaries did their best to raise them from infancy, chief among them Ho-Oh, it couldn't ever compare to having a true parental figure. With that, decades of loneliness, of abandonment, all came crashing down on them like a torrential downfall.

The elder Latios choked back his tears and pulled both of his crying children closer to him in their triad embrace. He basked in the warmth and pressure that came with their touch, and the rush of adrenaline and excitement that tore through him in response to it. Every movement they made that caused their necks and chests to rub against him, every agitated breath they took that made their bodies pulse against his, their distinct scent that permeated every breath he took, it all made his stomach flutter and his body tremble uncontrollably alongside theirs. He pulled them in tighter, reveling in the feeling of their fine feathers rolling against the sharp edges of his claws. "It feels so great to finally hold you in my claws for real," Latios choked out weakly, voice breaking every other word. "Every day I spent in the Soul Dew, I dreamed of this moment."

With every passing word, Latios and Latias only cried harder in response to the point it threatened to drown his voice out, yet they heard every word loud and clear. By now the red, blue, and white feathers on their cheeks all showed heavy stains of moisture and any time their eyes opened to look at their father, reddened stains now marred the pure white of their sclerae. Both made feeble attempts to respond to him. Attempts that failed to break through rampant sobs and only drowned behind them.

Their father struggled to hold back a sob that rattled his entire body and made his levitation fluctuate. "I can't believe that moment is here. I love both of you."

Latios and Latias cried far harder. Every day, the Soul Dew taunted them with a daily reminder of their orphanhood. Their father was there. Right there. They saw him day in and day out but couldn't talk to him. He bathed Alto Mare with power and love, fueling the city's brimming canals with life and purity as folklore told. But not them, his children. At the time it only made them wonder, did he truly love them? Why was he gone?

Latios and Latias cried even harder to the point their cries became raspy and their throats turned raw. They remembered asking questions about their father to others like Mew and Ho-Oh, who only spoke of him with the highest of regard and admiration. And, above all, always maintained the firm stance that their father loved them. Only the day prior, a vision from their subconscious resurfaced and let them see that love firsthand. Visions and tales, however, left room for doubt and questions, no matter their intentions.

But now it was real. Their father held them. Their father cherished them. Their father cried along with them. And, above all…

Their father loved them.

Ho-Oh observed the trio of dragons cry and hug their hearts out from the sideline with a look of happiness and relief, glad that the young twins finally reunited with their father. Even as time passed and their sobs alternated between highs and lows, she remained silent and let them savor their reunion in peace. She reached up with a vibrant wing and gently wiped the tears that formed under her eyes. She looked at the speck of moisture over a couple of her feathers which swiftly evaporated and trembled briefly. She felt her body's temperature involuntarily rise to the point the tree trunk under her charred slightly and soft trails of smoke rose from it. 'If only it could've been like this from the start…'

The elder Latios, at long last, mustered the mountain of willpower that it took to pull back briefly and gently cup Latias' flushed face with his claws. He lovingly wiped some of her tears away, even though such an action felt futile against the heavily-matted feathers, and gently kissed her forehead. "To see you with my eyes at last, you're even more beautiful than I thought. You have no idea how happy I am to finally meet and hold you…" He smiled at her and pressed his forehead against hers. "I love you, my daughter," he whispered soothingly into her ear.

Latias trembled in response. She needed to hear that so badly all her life. Her mouth slowly curled into an overjoyed grin. She tried to look at her father's eyes but found that only a blurry mess greeted her. "I love you too, dad," she answered in a thick and raspy voice.

Latios turned toward his son and his smile broadened. "And look at you!" He coughed to clear his throat and pushed back against a renewed rush of tears and sobs. "You're so big and strong. I've wanted to see you all my life, and here you are." He leaned forward and kissed Latios' forehead. Then his head slid down and tenderly nuzzled against his. "I better watch out or you'll end up bigger than me soon." He chuckled and pulled back. "Meeting you is the biggest joy in my life, and I love you so much, my son."

"T-Thanks, father," Latios replied feebly—voice as equally raspy and thick as Latias' from crying—as he buried his face in the underside of his father's neck. "I needed to hear that so much."

"That I love you?" the larger Latios asked. "I'll say that and show it as many times every day as you want from now on." He slowly let go of Latios and Latias, as hard as it was, while being sure both fully activated their levitation before he did so. He flew back ever so slightly and wiped some tears from his eyes to get a better look at both of his children. "I can't believe how much you two have grown and changed since we last talked at Alto Mare. It feels like ages ago," he murmured with an adoring smile to his children.

Latios chuckled weakly. "Thanks. We… We've tried to… You know, not be weak anymore, not like when we were at Alto Mare. We weren't the best guardians."

The elder Latios shook his head. "Nonsense. I couldn't have asked for better protectors." He beamed ecstatically. "And you have. I was right when I told you two to leave Alto Mare. I'm so proud of both of you."

Latias let out a nostalgic sigh as she thought back to all the adventures she and her brother lived through since they left the ocean city. "Thank you, dad," she murmured while doing her best to clear her eyes. She frowned and looked at her father pensively. "But, after protecting Alto Mare and the Soul Dew for so long, why did you just… let us leave one day? Just like that?" she asked worriedly. "I've always wondered that."

"There are many reasons for that, and all will come to your understanding as our conversation continues. After all, we've got so much to go over," Latios, the father, their father, replied calmly. He took a few deep breaths to quell his shaky breathing and the trembles that still produced occasional breaks in his voice. "But the most basic reason? I wanted you to experience freedom at last. You both deserved freedom above all else. I wanted you both to enjoy the world and enjoy its endless beauty, along with the thrill of life, free from your duty to Alto Mare."

"We did, dad, we did," Latias replied weakly while choking back a resurgent sob. "I promise we've cherished and enjoyed every moment since you allowed us to leave Alto Mare."

"But how?" Latios asked in a whisper so quiet it barely echoed over the faint rustles of leaves in the background. He swallowed audibly and did his best to calm his ceaseless shivers. "It's the one question I can't shake off. How?"

"How what?" their father asked for clarification.

"How is it that you're back?" Latios elaborated with a whimper. He reached up and wiped a couple of errant tears that trailed down his cheeks with a claw and tried to clear his blurred vision. "We saw you growing up. You've always been there, in the Soul Dew, every single day. We thought… We thought it'd always be like that. We accepted it as a fact of life. You… died."

"I died long ago, yes," the elder Latios confirmed with a crestfallen tone that made a sharp pain throb inside Latios and Latias' chests. "But…" He slowly glanced at Ho-Oh and smiled gratefully at her. "She resurrected me."

Latias gasped and turned to face the large goddess, who stood quietly at the three dragons' side throughout their conversation. "R-Really?"

"I did," Ho-Oh answered with a nod. She looked at the larger Latios with a soft expression on her face as a gentle aura of heat and a golden glow ever so slightly radiated out of her plumage. "It's something I've looked forward to for so long. And the time came, at last."

Latios' eyes widened and looked at his father in horror at an intrusive thought that abruptly erupted into his mind. "B-But, Alto Mare! What about Alto Mare!? If you're not there that means there's no Soul Dew anymore!" He froze and a cold shiver ran through his spine. "The water! It'll destroy the city!"

Latias gasped. "That's right! What about everyone there!?"

Latios levitated closer and comfortingly patted his son's neck with a clawed hand. "Relax. I took care of that shortly after my revival. Alto Mare is safe and doesn't need a Soul Dew anymore. I left the garden and its fate up to Lorenzo." He closed his eyes and let out a relieved exhale. "We're all free from Alto Mare at last."

Latios frowned in surprise as he slowly processed his father's response. "If we have no duty to Alto Mare anymore. We're free. Does that mean… we can be a family now?" he croaked out. He reached up and wiped another couple of tears away from under his eyes. "And all that…"

His son's broken voice hurt like nothing else, yet Latios knew it'd be better to look ahead and to the future instead. He nodded and lovingly nuzzled the younger Latios' side. "Yes, we can. I promise to never go away again. Not ever."

Latias flew over and pressed against her father's other side with a soft coo. "I…" She smiled weakly. "I… There's so much I want to say and talk and… everything," she whispered. "I never thought we'd meet you, dad. Now I want to just leave and do everything I've dreamed of with you."

The elder Latios felt his eyes moisten further at the thought of his children's stolen childhood and how much he missed out on it. He took a deep breath and turned to nuzzle her as well. "And I'd love to hear every bit of it. Every single one of your tales, of your adventures, of your joys, everything. I want to catch up on it all."

Latias pressed back against her father and her smile widened. She felt her heartbeat increase again from a renewed rush of excitement and contentment. She turned down her levitation slightly and rested her weight on his arms and neck. "Thank you."

Latios tightly wrapped his arms around his daughter. "I'm sorry. I wish I could've been there for your childhood. Throughout the whole ordeal of my death and being forced to reside in the Soul Dew for a century, that's by far my biggest regret. It's the only regret I have." He closed his eyes and pressed his neck against Latias' affectionately. "That I couldn't be there for you."

Latios smiled sadly, reminiscing much of their shared memories from Alto Mare. "And we… We would've loved it if you'd been there, father. It was hard, you know? To grow up every day, being able to look into the pedestal and at you, and be reminded every day you died. We protected your Soul Dew as we were told, but it also served as a painful reminder every single day."

"I know," their father answered sadly. "The burden placed on you two was deeply unfair. And for that, I'm very sorry. I wish I could've done better. I wish things would've turned out differently."

Latios choked back a sob. "You died protecting the city… I don't think it's your fault. We… We understand. After all, we protected you."

"And you did a marvelous job at it," the darker Latios praised. "Every day and every night, you didn't fail your task. I couldn't be prouder of you two."

Latias smiled at her father as she took in every word with great joy and she only imagined what lay ahead in the days to come and all that they'd do together. Yet, as the rush of emotions died down and her mind allowed more critical thinking to take place, she found herself involuntarily turning to face Ho-Oh with a saddened and demanding look in her reddened amber eyes. "There's… something that's bothering me. A lot."

"What is it?" Ho-Oh asked calmly while meeting Latias' eyes dead center.

"I… I love that our father's back. I really do, but… you revived Ash instantly when he died. If revival is one of your powers, why didn't you do it… sooner? A century sooner," Latias asked slowly as if carefully picking her words and holding back her emotions. She bit her lip and, satisfied with her question, focused on the fire Legendary with expectant eyes and claws that flexed impatiently.

"Because I couldn't. Simple as that." Ho-Oh's expression fell and Latias' eyes, as did Latios', widened in shock. Never had they seen the powerful Ho-Oh so weak, vulnerable, and dejected. "Trust me, for the longest time, I dreamt of the day I could finally revive your father. Every time I visited you at Alto Mare, after checking up on you two to make sure you were alright, the very next thing I did was check if I could revive him. Every. Single. Time." Her expression hardened and she met Latias' eyes firmly. "Without fail. You have my word."

Latias frowned and thought over the larger Legendary's response several times. Her empathy felt no ruse and no deceit in her response. "But why couldn't you? You didn't seem to have any objections with Ash…"

"It's a very long story, and answering that right now will only create confusion for the two of you as you will understand little," Ho-Oh answered steadily.

Latias glared at her. "You're not about to—"

"I will answer that, sweetheart," Ho-Oh promised quickly. "But first I have to work my way to that answer so you understand the context that comes along with it."

Latias sighed. "Fine. How long ago did you revive him?"

"Not long ago," Latios answered while calmly floating to Ho-Oh's side. "And ever since I came back, I've spent every moment getting ready to meet you. I wished I could've flown immediately to greet you both, but with the complexity of matters, there were some things I had to take care of while the memories… of my death remained fresh in my mind. After all, you two know by now my death wasn't a pretty affair."

Latios nodded slowly in understanding. "Hm, how do I word this…" He scowled and hung his head in defeat. "Our attacker, your killer, the one who tried to destroy Alto Mare in the legend. He's still around, isn't he?"

"He is," their father answered solemnly. "It's one of the things I tried to take care of the moment I returned. Your safety."

Latios gasped as he remembered his conversation with Skailyn the night prior. "You're the one that asked Skailyn to protect us!"

The elder Latios nodded. "I did. She's one of the few gods I'd trust to look out after you in my stead."

"Where did that thing come from? Why did it kill you and attack Alto Mare?" Latias asked worriedly. She rolled her eyes and shook her head with disdain. "There's just so much I don't understand. It's driving me crazy."

Latios frowned and looked at his children with a saddened smile. "When we spoke at Alto Mare and before I allowed you two to depart, I told you I knew you had so many questions. Questions about your past, about your life story, about your duties, about your family. Questions I promised would be answered in due time. And, now is that time. While it'd be wonderful to leave and spend time together now, I think it's best to set everything clear from the beginning."

Latias nodded slowly. "I… I'm okay with that, yeah. I'd love for everything to make sense at last."

"So am I," Latios agreed. "We'll understand everything after this, right?"

Their father nodded. "You will. There is nothing to hide anymore. Please, listen to everything from start to finish before drawing conclusions. I know some things may sound confusing, even infuriating at first, but as we reveal more and more, everything will come to make sense and I hope you both understand."

Latios looked at his sister. "I don't like the sound of that. But it's what we've always wanted, right? Should we… I don't know anymore."

"We have to, Latios. As you said, it's what we've always desired," Latias replied, giving her brother a sympathetic look. She glanced at her father and narrowed her eyes determinately. "We're ready."

Latios blinked away some of the moisture in his eyes and looked between his father and Ho-Oh until his surprised gaze fell squarely on Ho-Oh. "Though, you said the answers we sought would come from you and not our father. Unless you said that to avoid spoiling the surprise for us."

"It's from both of us. I have just as much stake in this as your father does," Ho-Oh clarified. "If you're ready to start, then we shall." Her expression softened and an affectionate light shone in her ruby-red eyes. "I'll continue with the next most important thing of it all after introducing you to your father. Which is the reason why my role in this is as important as his and why I also have to be in this conversation." She paused and remained silent for a moment.

Latias tilted her head and gave Ho-Oh a concerned expression. The abrupt shift in the life goddess' emotions felt downright blinding to her. As if a peaceful ocean suddenly churned into a violent storm. Her eyes narrowed and she leaned forward. "Are you okay?"

Ho-Oh slowly lifted her face and met their expectant gazes as firmly as she could. "I am."

Latios swallowed nervously. Ho-Oh's eyes always carried an intensity and power that eclipsed all that surrounded her. Yet, at that precise moment, it all faded away. He'd never seen such uncertainty, hesitation, and fear in her once-powerful gaze. And it worried him immensely.

"I'm so sorry to both of you," Ho-Oh started with a choke that stunned Latios and Latias. "Ever since you two hatched, I took it upon myself to nurture you, to care for you, to guide you, to raise you, and to ease you into life. I took it upon my responsibility to do so… because it was. It was mine and no one else's. It's been the greatest pain in my life but, in the end, how it's made me feel doesn't matter to me. The only thing I care about is the struggles you've faced and the assured pain that what I'm about to say will inflict on you."

Latios and Latias looked at Ho-Oh with perplexed expressions, silently listening to every word that came out of her. For a moment, the presence of their father at her side became forgotten, completely eclipsed by the life goddess' speech. They looked at each other in their confusion as if asking each other if they heard the same thing.

Latias carefully went over every single word Ho-Oh said in her mind.

Then it abruptly clicked.

Latias gasped shallowly. It all made sense now. Everything. "Wait, you…"

Latios looked between them, surprised. "What? What's going on, Latias?"

Ho-Oh nodded somberly. "There's so much I have to say now and I hope you two listen to the end. But, regardless if you wish to listen or not to me, the truth above all else is that I love you. More than anything. I wish things would've gone differently from the start but they didn't and we've got to live with it."

Latios' eyes widened as realization dawned on him. "No way…"

"You're both so sharp to have realized it and I could never be prouder than I am of both of you right now." Ho-Oh's eyes glistened from the tears gathering under them. "I've longed for so long for this moment, for us to finally reunite as a family, and where I could finally tell you that…"

The room fell eerily silent.

"I am your mother."

Chapter End

Author Notes: Don't forget to leave a Review or Comment with your thoughts! I'd love to hear them!