Legend of the Exile, Chapter 51: Retrievers Rising
Rose on wings of truth today
Crossed the seas of heart's array
Eyes of truth have filled the light
For the legend is alive tonight
Life rippled from Thalia's paws as she padded out into the champion's gardens, flowing into the ground and filling the flowering gardens. Her breath wafted out from her mouth in tiny swells of condensation, the wind chilly in her fur.
A new dawn, she thought. Humans tossed that phrase around so casually; but the Leafeon could finally appreciate it. Listening to the island stir, she waited patiently in the flower-ringed meadow as a Skarmory approached from across the sea, clutching a long package in its steel talons.
Down at the temple's half-rebuilt entrance, Shock padded out into the early twilight, flanked by Razor and Lane, claws and cutlass sheathed. Above the red gateway hung Thalia's blades, Shensing and Hador, bound into a new coat of arms.
All along the temple pathway, Foam and his crews were hard at work, clearing away rubble, rebuilding broken walls, laying new foundations. "Stone by stone, we will rebuild the city of Corundia," said Heroc, twirling his stave proudly. Noticing Shock, the Breloom dipped his head to the Manectric. "Shock, sir!"
Each Pokemon paused to salute the Manectric as he passed them by. "Captain, brigadier, administrator; the title you carry doesn't matter," said Lane to Shock as they watched the workers, a gleam in his eye. "We knights will always stand at your side."
At that moment, a Lairon padded up to Razor. After a moment, both Shock and Lane recognized him as the wounded Lairon in Verdanturf. "Hey, Barrel," said the Zangoose, patting him as he nuzzled her belly. One paw touched the healed scar on his flank, and she smiled warmly. "Glad that you're okay..."
Back up in the Champion's gardens, Thalia waited eagerly as Skarmory descended toward her with a faint, steel cry. "Delivery for Thalia Leaf-Light," announced the Skarmory as he hovered before her, depositing the long package in the grass at her paws.
Nodding, the Leafeon unwrapped the package with eager vines. Sure enough, just as she'd requested: A scoped, unstrung bow of yew, oiled and supple, a silk pouch dangling from one end. Slowly, she ran a paw down its length, its dusty scent mingling with hers.
Suddenly feeling playful, she strung the bow with a fresh vine and drew it over her back, plucking a leaf-arrow from her back. Nocking her arrow, she spun to face the temple stadium and drew back her string. Red and sepia runes glowed on the bow, the wind at her back.
Gazing down the sights, Thalia released the string. Sailing up into the air, the arrow arced down into the stadium, landing in the center of the stadium, directly above the octagon elevator. She sighed in relief; perhaps there was hope for her. "Thank you," said the Leafeon to the Skarmory. "What's your name?"
The Skarmory landed in the grass, a flickering shadow in his slender eyes. "You may call me Falchion," said the steel bird, dipping his head. "Formerly of the Iron Fleet, but now with the Guild of Glass in Fallarbor. At your service, my champion."
Her eyes widened. Falchion. She remembered that name. "Were you Ferricia's brother?" asked Thalia, padding up to the Skarmory, who flinched. "I... I'm very sorry about your sister." She dipped her head to him respectfully. "She... didn't talk about her family much."
He looked away. "And she rarely spoke of Slick's companions, aside from Rush," murmured the Skarmory, his voice just above a croak. "Still, I imagine she would be proud to see how far you and Sparktail have come, Lady Thalia."
As the Skarmory flew off into the west, the Leafeon turned to gaze out over the sea, smiling. "Thanks, Falchion," she said to the rolling wind and the rising sun. "I hope you live a happy life, too."
Turning, her paws almost tripped over something. Blinking, Thalia glanced down to see Sparktail's pack, filled to the brim with Hondew berries. Eyes widening, the Leafeon covered her mouth with a paw, hiding a tiny smile. "Oh, you dork..."
Wind rushing through his fur, the Raichu held onto to the Skarmory's back as he once again descended into the white mountain's crater, his wish tag dangling from a cord on his neck. The sun's rays glinted off the Skarmory's wings and the surface of Lake Helena, far below.
On a high ledge, Mythic watched as Sparktail and the Skarmory descended in a graceful arc towards him with an elegant flourish of razor feathers. "Welcome back," said the Tanuki as the Raichu dismounted a few feet away. "Did Thalia like her gift?"
This time, Sparktail felt the surge of power that surrounded Mythic, saw both illusion and reality, both Eevee and Tanuki. Even if this power wasn't something that he could consciously control, it was comforting to know that his sanity was intact. "A gift from you?"
"A gift from this city," replied the Tanuki, padding up next to the Raichu. Turning out to face the lake, Sparktail stared over the glittering, rebuilt steppes of Sootopolis, to the countless Pokemon wandering its slopes. "They have a gift for you, as well. May I see your wish tag?"
The Raichu blinked, then removed the small green slip and handed it to Mythic, cord and all. "For a new, hopeful world," read the Tanuki aloud, holding up the wish tag to the light, clutching a white bell made from shoal shells with his tail. "Short, simple... and very much like you."
Sparktail stared as the Tanuki slotting the wish tag safely inside the shell bell, weaving the cord through the back of the bell. "May your wish always grant you strength," said Mythic, slipping the wish tag pendant back around Sparktail's neck. "Now, are you ready to begin?"
Touching a paw to the bell, the Raichu smiled and turned to face the mysterious cavern's arching gates, where the Virtues had first appeared. This wasn't Lyther's underwater passage. This was Sootopolis's ancient Cave of Origin, where ambushers had first dragged him and the others down their long, arduous path. "Yes. I'm ready."
The air was cool and silent as they padded inside. Red and blue crystals protruded from the cavern walls, dark in hue, but still illuminating the corridor with their comforting glow. "Time has eroded the memory of Hoenn's past," said Mythic, his words echoing across the cavern. "One legend ends, and a new legend begins."
The tunnel began to curve down, descending into the mountain's depths. "I believe you understand what sort of legacy you now carry," said the Tanuki as Sparktail followed close behind. "You and Thalia have entrusted Hoenn to Shock, but you must ensure that Shock will always be worthy of that trust."
At the end of the spiraling passage, Sparktail padded into the ancient chamber, the ground sloping down into a great basin, wall-crystals casting their mysterious glow upon the nine boulders below. Every pawstep echoed off the pale, sepia walls; in that moment, he realized that his shell bell had not rung even once.
Moving along the basin's encircling ledge, the Raichu squinted at the faded names written upon the boulders. "Tradition holds that souls enter our world at Sootopolis, and depart our world at Mount Pyre," said the Tanuki, just behind Sparktail. "Remember always: Light gives direction to life, and life gives meaning to light."
Sensory fragments drifted from the basin, half-images and false sounds, memories of textures and incomplete scents, past and future. "The gods exist to serve the people," Slick had once said. "Only when the gods serve the people do they deserve the people's honor, for without the people, the gods would not exist."
The Raichu blinked. He could feel a charge in the cavern, shifting from boulder to boulder, forming eight lines that converged at the center boulder. "The heart of Hoenn," he whispered, a paw resting on his sword. Energy rose from the basin in an ancient, vibrant spiral, flowing up into the world.
"The cornerstone of this fragile land," said Mythic softly. "Once, the nine tribes of Hoenn intersected at this point. Before then, a lone youth came here, seeking an end to an era of chaos. Before then, two sisters contemplated on the origin of all thought and all existence. Before then..."
No longer listening, Sparktail stared down into the basin, its mysterious current rising and falling in waves. If he and Thalia had truly unleashed the forgotten miracle that banished Giratina, then it was crucial that they understand how to control this great, terrible power. "Thank you," said the Raichu quietly. "Could I have some time to think?"
Mythic smiled. "Sure thing," said the Tanuki, padding back to the tunnel's mouth. "Just don't let your mind wander too much. You wouln't want to keep Thalia waiting. Haha!" Smiling as well, Sparktail took a seat at the basin's edge, and closed his eyes as Mythic left the cave.
In the stadium above Indigo Plateau, a vast crowd of humans and Pokemon watched with bated breath as Insyte proceeded up the central aisle, approaching the silent champion in red. Together with Marrow, Caine, and several newly appointed lieutenants, Shanala surveyed the sea of weary human survivors, mingled with dozens of eager Vulcanite eyes.
Lowering to one knee, Red placed a crown woven from gold leaves on Insyte's head, and the Alphas of the Wild Alliance—Suicune, Entei, Raikou—bowed before the new Vulcanite king. Proudly, the Flareon turned to face the crowd as applause thundered from the stands; for now, all could see a new sun rising above Kanto.
As Skarmories circled the Silver Conclave's ridges, Lyther sank to one knee before Elias's grave, sand crunching underpaw. The salty wind rippled through his tattered cloak as the Lucario held up the Sceptile's leaf-blade, its ebony length dyed with faded green. Solemnly, Lyther solemnly sank the sword into the ground by its owner's resting place.
In the distance, Lyther could hear the voices of pilgrims wandering the Conclave's trails. As he turned to pad away, the Lucario glimpsed a flash of glass, bobbing in the sea foam. Approaching the water's edge, Lyther's eyes widened as he discovered a beer bottle—containing the beak and bones of a Starly. "Dantor, Trident," he whispered, his heart rising. "Thank the gods..."
On the shore of a foaming, rolling lake, a Swampert stepped back to examine his completed hut, woven from bark and branches. From outside, Rush checked its misshapen but sturdy walls, a small war-chest peeking out from the entrance. Satisfied with his handiwork, he checked to make sure that he was alone, then padded inside.
Letting his pack slide to the floor, Rush opened the war-chest, staring at his belongings. Ribbons and awards. A small photo album and scrapbook. The charred Griseous Orb. Unbuckling his arm braces, he placed them inside the chest as well before shutting the lid. With a sad smile, the Swampert buried the war-chest in a pit beneath his nest—then set outside to forage.
Off the coast of Lilycove, the ancient Relicanth drifted calmly in the glittering sea as Amber glided across the waves. "Never thought I'd ride the sea again," called the Pikachu from her newly carved bark-raft, rising and falling with the waves. She chuckled softly. "Shock doesn't know what he's missing."
From the sandy beach nearby, Magik watched Amber while the Plusle played in the sand. The Torchic tilted her head at an angle. "So, when's the wedding?" asked Magik cheekily.
"Eh!?" Caught off guard, the Pikachu tumbled off her bark-raft and into the sea with a great splash. Both Magik and the Plusle started giggling. "Just what's that supposed to mean?!" demanded Amber as her head broke the water's surface, ears and tail dripping.
In the flowering meadow on Mount Moon's summit, Lute watched from the morning shadows as the Swordwrit gathered before Roathaus. In the front line stood the Luxray, the Typhlosion, and the Umbreon from Red Battalion, all bearing the marks of new apprentices. As the guild's ranks bowed before their master, the Dragonite caught Lute's eye and gave him a reassuring smile.
Turning away, the Absol stared off into the east, toward a distant, lush valley tucked between the foothills of Cerulean and the speckled sea. Once again, alone. Once again, in search of purpose. "I made a promise to you, Shaymin," murmured Lute, looking down at the charred pink flower in his paw. "I will watch over your daughters..."
The Raichu's fur bristled as he sensed a new prescence in the cavern, the air rippling with power. Eyes flying open, Sparktail rose to face the intruder, sword drawn, tail lashing at the floor.
In the mouth of the passageway stood Aurton Slick Silversky, half-hidden in shadows. No, not Slick himself. Rayquaza's power would have seen to that. But the astral projection was strong enough to send a small shiver down the Raichu's spine.
"And thus, Hoenn is ushered into a new era of peace," mocked Aurton, eyes like glowing shards in the dark. "With Shock in command... his most trusted warriors will help him transform this landscape... but never without Thalia and Sparktail watching over his shoulders."
The Raichu watched warily as the Exile moved forward into the crystalline light, approaching the far side of the basin. "Tell me, little knight," taunted Slick, thin red cracks criss-crossing his pale, sunken face. "Are you proud of the blood you spilled? Of your newfound servitude, to this savage land? Of this world, that you will create?"
Thalia was right. He needed to speak out, from now on. And not just for himself, but for all who placed their faith in him. "Yes," murmured the Raichu. "This... This is what I want." A small smile formed as he glanced down to his shell bell. "I want... a chance at life. A life that's truly mine.... one I created."
The spectral, red-tipped wings of Giratina rose at Aurton's back, twisted and blurred. "Is this world so different than the one I would forge?" said the Exile, with just a hint of spite. "Purged of mankind. Purged of semantics and fraudulence. Reclaimed by the wilderness, by nature's feral wrath—"
"Never." The word came out with more force than Sparktail intended, echoing across the ancient cavern with splashes of static. "Never," repeated the Raichu quietly, staring at Slick with hardening eyes, holding his sword steady. "We'll never forget what humanity gave us... what you gave me."
Exile and champion, the duo stared at each other from across the basin, warriors from distant worlds. "Then, I see that my legacy shall never end," sneered Aurton with a thin, bitter smile. "Forever doomed to walk in my shadow. Forever retracing my steps."
The Raichu's heart pounded. Slick's legacy. From the very start, the Virtues had urged them to emulate Slick, to offer the world the same protection and compassion that their master had shown them. And yet, had they truly defeated the Exile, if they did so by imitating him?
But then, Sparktail remembered the feelings in his heart and lungs, forming in every exchange with Thalia, every march with Shock's patrol, every glimpse of Hoenn's savage beauty. A feeling that had nothing to do with Slick. "This isn't about you," he whispered aloud, his heart rising. "This has nothing to do with you at all..."
The Exile halted. "What this is... it's my choice," continued the Raichu, his voice low but strong. "I'm doing this for Thalia. For myself." For all the Pokemon of Hoenn, watching their every move, hoping to rise above them one day. For all who trusted him and Thalia to drive back their enemies, to hold the wilderness tame. So that the ancient spirit of Hoenn, the will of the wild, would continue for all time.
Once, he had seen Slick as impossible to equal. But now, he could clearly see the parallels between them. "Dialga said you devoted your entire self to us," said Sparktail, lifting his voice, clenching his teeth against the memories. "But maybe... it wasn't that you loved us so much. Maybe... you were just afraid of others."
Shadows swelled around Giratina, his eyes narrowing, gold-clawed fingers tightening into a ball. "I do not fear such pitiful creatures," said Aurton scathingly, though his voice was strained, as if barely containing a blaze of emotions. "Why should the hunter fear the prey? Why should one with true power fear shallow words?"
But of course Slick feared humanity; Sparktail saw that now. His long, bloody warpath from continent to continent had proven that. "If you're not afraid—" The Raichu relaxed his grip on his sword, sparks running down his tail. "Then why hold back?"
Stung, the Exile recoiled from Sparktail, the projection flickering—faltering, eyes watering. The Raichu looked the Exile in the eye. "Slick is dead," he said firmly, his voice clear for once in his life, with all the strength he could muster. "And whatever he's become... whatever you are now... you're not the one I called friend... the one I called master. Not anymore!"
Pain flashed across Slick's features. In that moment, the Raichu saw past the mask of twisted emotions, saw the one who was both beast and man, truly saw his enemy's face—cursed by time and space, scarred by the heavens. Was this the power of words? The power of language, greater than any sword, to penetrate the Exile's layers of illusion?
Shaking his head slowly, the Exile stared at Sparktail, searching the Raichu's face, but avoiding his eyes. "I had hoped that you, at least, might have understood," uttered Slick hollowly, the darkness stripped from his voice, reduced to a brittle shadow of his past self. "You, you never sought to control. Only to triumph. And you triumphed."
Haggard eyes, yellowed teeth; the Exile stared at the Raichu with longing and bitterness. "I thought you might have understood!" he shouted suddenly, pointing at Sparktail with a shaking finger, eyes desperate, then crestfallen. "The desire to overcome. To dominate. To master the world!"
The crystals' lights blurred and shifted around the duo. Sword and tail still raised, Sparktail silently looked Slick in the eyes, so that his enemy might see his thoughts without words. Slowly, gradually, Aurton drew back from the Raichu, drawing the Exile's power around himself like a cocoon.
"I have... a message for Shock," said the Exile finally, his voice dropping back to a hiss. The projection became distorted, shadows creeping over his face and arms; the eyes glowed red, the skin paling to gray. "Tell your chosen one this..."
In one crystal, Sparktail saw Latias and Cumulus crossing a clear blue sky together. Passing through the sun's white glare, they emerged on the other side as two Altarias, eyes happy and bright. "Though you have forced peace upon this land..."
In another crystal, Lunus the Umbreon stared up at the night sky while with Solus the Espeon lay at his paws, her belly plump and swollen with their pup; then the image shifted, and Sparktail saw Insyte and Shanala, crossing the stadium at Indigo Plateau together. "I will not relinquish my claim to the world..."
A blue crystal showed Lyther climbing the Silver Conclave's hill, waves crashing on the bleak stone beaches as a salty wind swept through his tattered cape. In the sea nearby, Lugia watched the Lucario with peaceful blue eyes, before dipping beneath the water's surface. "Nor shall I stand idle, while you spread mankind's poisonous ideals..."
A red crystal showed Insyte and Shanala standing side-by-side on a great dock, the wind streaming through their fur. In the sky above, Ho-Oh gave a triumphant cry as a tiny ship disappeared on the far eastern horizon. "One day, this homeland that you have fought for shall return to dust," said Aurton, his eyes smouldering. "And on that day, O Champion... I will be waiting for you!"
As Giratina the Exile vanished from the cavern, the Raichu sheathed his sword and lowered his tail with a true, honest smile. No matter how many times Giratina rose against the world, Sparktail and Thalia would strike the Exile down each time.
At last, he felt safe and sure of himself, of his place in the world. He would not fear tomorrow, or the day after, or any of the days to come. And though he would guard his life as long as possible, he would try to not fear his own death, when it came.
As the Raichu padded up the passageway, he thought of the dead one final time... the Virtues, Sheltur, Elias, Ferricia, Slick, and Ilun long before them... and not with sadness, but with appreciation. He did not need their deaths to drive him any longer. Being a champion, even half a champion, would be enough to give meaning to his life.
It was time to move past the memories, past angst, past regret. A future was waiting for him back at Ever Grande, a life alongside Thalia, watching over Shock's new Hoenn. And emerging from the cave, Sparktail sprinted toward the Skarmory with eager green eyes, his tail swishing in the morning light.
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