POKEMON - LEGEND OF THE EXILE
Chapter 5: The Lucario's Hideout
Run and hide from cruel fangs and claws
Lies and deceit thrive in the Exile's laws
Plundered by tyrant, terroized by wraith
Even in this place, we are not truly safe
A lone Umbreon ascended the spiral staircase within the Lost Tower of Sinnoh, his dark red eyes glowing with weariness in every pawstep. As he climbed the filth-stained steps towards the lonely spire, bedraggled and fur-torn, Insyte hissed the names of the ones he had left far behind under his rasping breath, his path illuminated only by the cruel light of the moon. Sparktail... Thalia... Lute... Rush... Ferricia... the Vulcanite vixen.
His gaze was veiled in fiery shadow, his ears haunted with the echoes of his friends. Why had he done this? Why had he fled, abandoned them? And even as he tried to claw the images out of his eyes, their faces still loomed out of the darkness, their empty gazes piercing the cloak of shadows that he drew around himself. Why did they haunt him still, when he was as worthless to them? Only here, in this lonely monument to the power of death, would Insyte find solace.
On the uppermost floor, he padded into a desolate, gray chamber with an altar of obsidian. Memories of the fierce battle between Slick and Giratina's lieutenants echoed in his mind, a whirlwind of flashing claws and fangs and an exchange of countless attacks, all in the name of the three glass spheres which governed the ancient titans that dwelled beneath Hoenn.
And yet, thought Insyte as he approached the cursed altar, what good had that fighting done for the world? Giratina had claimed the Orbs of Hoenn regardless, and killed Slick as well. Of all the people in Hoenn who had emerged from the safety of Sootopolis City, only Slick had the foolishness to throw his life away for legendary artifacts.
Suddenly, a brilliant flash of light erupted in the center of the chamber, and Insyte leapt back in alarm as his night eyes were completely blinded by the brilliance of the flash. He let out a frustrated scream and pawed at the ground furiously, shining stars and flickering echoes of light in his eyes.
As the room gradually came back into focus, Insyte caught sight of a serene Pokemon with a faintly glowing green body. The being rose up into the air before Insyte, its body a foot tall, and Insyte's eyes widened with recognition. "You're... you're Celebi!"
"Greetings, dear Insyte," spoke the forest sprite, its voice calm and quieting as he extended a hand towards the stunned Umbreon. "Ah, such dark thoughts writhe about in your very heart and mind as we speak! Why, good Umbreon, do you fear me?"
The Umbreon's eyes hardened, and his awe quickly soured into anger as he recoiled from Celebi's prescence, his tail striking against the cold dead floor. "What do you want with me?" hissed Insyte as he stared up at the Pokemon with wild eyes. "Can you not let me bear my vigil in peace?"
Celebi gazed back at Insyte calmly, neither accusatory nor afraid, but disappointed. "Hear me, little one of the darkened forests," murmured the sprite as he hovered above Hades' altar, his glowing form illuminated the dreary features of the room, casting a tall but frail shadow behind Insyte. "The torch has been knocked out of your paws for too long, and you can no longer see yourself as others see, hear as others hear, feel as others feel."
No. No. He couldn't listen to him; it was too late to change the path. "Just leave me alone," snapped the Umbreon, his eyes narrowing to red slits as he slinked back from the forest guardian with bared teeth. "Leave me to my thoughts... you won't take me from this place! It's all I have left! Get AWAY!"
Still watching Insyte's eyes intently, the Virtue's voice took on a musical lilt, stirring the ancient spirits of the forest. "You think yourself irredeemable, forever lost to shadows," whispered Celebi, his eyes beginning to glow, a chill running down the Umbreon's spine. "Once upon a time, you longed to be something more, did you not? You betray your heart with every step..."
Insyte lunged for him and missed, tumbling into the shadowed cobwebs. Green light glittered around Celebi, and the Virtue faded into the gloom, until all that remained were his echoing, accusatory words. "O Wayward Soul... how could you turn your back on your friends when they needed you most?"
Morning light glowed above the desolate field. From the edge of the woods to the murky riverbanks, not one flower, not one blade of grass remained. Yet, the ruined village hummed of sadness, emptiness, loss; and it welcomed the survivors who emerged from hell, two nights ago.
In the middle of the great field, wisps of smoke rose from the crackling flames as Lyther and Dantor sat by their campfire, watching Trident roasting several Starlys on a spit. Nearby sat the Manectric, gazing silently into the distance.
"My my, that smells good," murmured Shanala as she joined the brothers, brushing wavy strands of fur out of her eyes. "Now where's Marrow? I need to talk to him." She yawned, her teeth gleaming as her belly rumbled. "Say... might I have a bite?"
The Manectric looked up briefly. "Marrow? That Houndoom?" he said. "If you're looking for that Houndoom, he went for a walk."
Lyther chuckled and patted Shanala on the back. "Someone hungry?" he teased, gently scratching behind her ears. The Ninetales gave him a stern look. "Well, you sure look hungry. You can eat in five or ten more minutes, it still needs to simmer."
"Don't be ridiculous, Lyther, the fox probably wants her breakfast raw," replied Trident curtly. His paw glowing blue, the elder Lucario reached for the spit and ripped off a half-cooked Starly, then tossed it to Shanala. "Here. Go wild."
"Ooh, thanks," said the Ninetales gratefully as she caught it, eagerly tearing into the meat. Lyther stared open-mouthed at the ravenous fox. Centuries of domestication had made Lucario bellies very accustomed to cooked food--and very averse to raw meat.
After a while, Sparktail approached the fire, tail dragging in the dirt. "Sparktail, friend," said Lyther, extending his paw towards the Raichu, who stared at the paw for a moment before shaking it. "Welcome to camp."
There was little good to say about the camp. Hardened dirt and shriveled, rotting grasses. Even the toadstools sprouting from the corpses of fallen trees were pale, brown, and sunken. Across the barren field, Sparktail saw rotting timbers, toppled houses, and dilapilated archways.
"Floarama, once thriving on Shaymin's blessing," said Trident grimly, rotating the spit. "It's a dead zone now. Or rather, it has returned to the barren land that it once was. Even the surrounding woodland is sparse and brittle."
"Yes," said the Raichu, staring into the flames, turning over jumbled memories, the frantic escape, from Elias's arrival to Insyte's desertion. There was something he was forgetting, but he couldn't rememeber what. "Um... Thanks."
"Yes, thank you," agreed Shanala, licking her chops. She moved over to Trident's side, meat juices dribbling down her muzzle, ignoring his scowl. "Do tell me when the rest are done. I'd like to sample them all, if you please."
Sparktail took a deep breath. "Um... I have a question," he said tenatively, avoiding their gazes. "This town...the town that used to be here... you said it's Floarama? So... uh... how did we end up in Sinnoh?"
"Allow me," said a voice from behind Sparktail, who turned to see Lute bounding up to them. "Well, well. It's been a long time. Never expected to see you again. But since she's here, it only makes sense..."
The Raichu frowned; Lute's words always made him uncomfortable. The Absol sat across the fire from Sparktail, leaning in towards the fire to take a deep whiff of the cooking Starly meat. The Manectric's eyes narrowed, but remained silent.
"Lute, back," warned Trident, rotating the spit, the Starly meat turning golden-brown over the crackling flames. "You and Klesr can split the first one that's ready, all right?"
Looking pleased, Lute turned back to Sparktail. "The military operations are centralized here," said the Absol. "Gastrodon herds move reinforcements and supplies from region to region. You were captured after Sootopolis fell, right? Soldiers must've decided you were important prisoners and brought you back to Sinnoh."
Sparktail shifted uncomfortably. "Anyway, my friends and I call ourselved the Swordians," continued Lute, padding in a circle around them. "We're hoping to revive the Swordwrit guild of old, but that's not the point." The Raichu's ears perked up. Slick's techniques were based off swordsmanship. "When I refused to ally with Giratina, he began to target us."
Dantor spat on the ground. "Giratina, that filthy old snake," hooted the Lucario, hiccupping. "He's flipping and flopping and crawling and flying all over the world and screwing it up big time, yessir he is, he is!" Sighing, the Manectric lay down and covered his head.
The long-horned Absol sighed. "At first we managed to survive by hiding," he continued, eyes hardening again. "Then we found out that we weren't the only ones being targeted. He's after the entire Swordwrit; a lot of them have been taken captive. Klesr and I were hunting for them when we found you. But I didn't find a single damn one..."
Leaf-cushioned pawsteps approached them. "Morning!" greeted Thalia as she padded over to them. "Lyther, Lute, and Shanala, too." She waved to the Lucario and the Ninetales, giving Lute a small nod before taking a seat next to Sparktail. The Raichu felt a hot tingle in his chest as the Leafeon nuzzled his shoulder. "What's this? Someone's up early."
The Raichu nodded. "Y-yeah, I couldn't sleep," he admitted. "Everything just feels... a bit off. Not sure what. Something in the air, maybe." Her smile vanishing, Thalia nodded in agreement. "Even the others..."
"Well, I hope I've changed for the better," said Shanala indifferently. Then, frowning, she turned to stare at Sparktail and Thalia. "But I'm surprised. It's not like you two to leave your trainer's side."
Flinching, Thalia turned away from the fox, giving Sparktail a helpless look. "Slick is dead, Shanala," said Lyther solemnly. The Ninetales blinked. "Aurton Silversky died a hero, just as he lived."
A grim silence settled over the campfire. "I... I'm very sorry to hear that," said Shanala finally. "Slick was... a good trainer to you all." Closing her eyes briefly, she got to her paws. "If you'll excuse me. I'm going to find Marrow."
"Even Shanala," muttered Thalia as the Ninetales padded away. "If she's like that... how are Rush and Ferricia holding up?" Then, shaking her head, she sat back on her haunches and looked around the campfire, smiling. "So... what's going on?"
Their eyes made contact briefly, and Sparktail felt that hot tingle again. "Oh, um.... Lute was just explaing things," he said a bit too quickly. He couldn't think of why he should feel awkard looking at Thalia, of all Pokemon--but his pulse seemed to race every time he tried.
"Klesr and I are waiting on breakfast," said Lute, gesturing to the Scyther beside him. "And Lyther and Sparktail were chatting up each other. So, you two... I trust you slept well, I hope?"
"As well as anyone could sleep, in this dead place which has been starved of life," muttered Thalia, just barely loud enough for Sparktail to hear. Then, gulping and glancing around, she added with a smile, "Oh, yes, it was a very peaceful night, thank you!"
There was a faint pink tinge in her cheeks as her eyes met the Raichu's, followed by a flicker of fear, and they both looked away uncomfortably. An odd expression crossed Lute's face, perhaps some ill memory; then, he shook his head and chuckled to himself.
After a few minutes, a Gardevoir approached the fire, her white cloak rippling in the cool morning breeze. "Good morning," she said serenely, her eyes meeting each of their gazes. "I take it that you're Sparktail and Thalia, correct? I am Kyria, a healer."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Lady Kyria," said Thalia cheerfully, waving to the Gardevoir with a paw as Sparktail shifted uncomfortably beneath the cleric's pure gaze. "Yes, I'm Thalia, and he's Sparktail. I think that's a really noble job you've got."
"You are kind, dear Thalia," replied Kyria with a graceful smile. "Noble or not, it is my calling." She turned to face the three Lucarios. "Welcome back, Lucario brothers. It's good to see you've all returned safely. Please, do come this way; I must examine your health."
Exchanging glances, Lyther, Dantor, and Trident all rose to their feet and looked at the Gardevoir, who waited patiently for them. "We'll be right back," Trident told the others, smiling grimly. "Let's go." Nodding, the three brothers followed Kyria down the dirt field.
As the three brothers wandered off, Thalia padded up to the Lucarios' fire and pulled off a charbroiled Starly breast. "Hey wait, Thalia," began the Raichu, glancing after to the Lucarios nervously as she carried it back to him. "They- they didn't say we could have their food!"
"Hey, we haffen't eaten for a few dayth," pointed out the Leafeon mischievously, her voice muffled with the bird in her mouth. She winked at the Raichu, then set the cooked meat down at his paws, her leafy tail eagerly flicking back and forth. "I mean, do you want to eat or starve?"
"Thalia's right- it's important to eat when you can," said Elias as he strode up to the fire with his leaf-blade and sliced down another Starly breast. Amused, he crouched down behind Sparktail, one elbow resting on the Raichu's shoulder. "Good morning, you two."
Blinking, Sparktail looked the Sceptile up and down, then looked back to Thalia, then down to the Starly in front of him. He opened his mouth to speak- then as his stomach growled, he shook his head, picked up the bird meat, and bit into it.
"A mouse eating a bird? Imagine that," laughed Thalia, taking the Starly from him so she could get a bite as well, before handing it back. There was silence for a moment as the duo exchanged bites from the bird, filling their bellies. Then, the Leafeon glanced sharply to Elias with a frown. "Hey wait. Is that the same leaf blade that you used yesterday? No way! Mine don't last that long."
"Mine are stronger," replied the Sceptile with a smile, watching as Lute flicked his head and sliced two more plump Starlys down from the spit, which Klesr quickly caught. "Ah, Sparktail, Thalia, you two are almost cute. Watch them as they eat."
Sparktail watched as a frowning Thalia reached for the leaf blade, only for Elias to lightly slap her paw with a finger. "Ah-ah-ah, I didn't say you could touch that," he chuckled, winking at the Leafeon. "So, what will you two do for now?"
Sparktail wouldn't have minded it if Lute, Klesr, Elias, and Thalia hadn't all turned their heads to look at him questioningly. "I'm not really sure," said the Raichu uncomfortably, glancing around to the others with a faint smile. "Um... I guess I'll... eh... do what I always do." At that, Thalia broke into laughter.
The next few days passed in a blur. Pokemon came and went. Though Sparktail, Thalia, and Shanala stayed in the camp, the other escapees were eager to leave Lytheria. "You should head home too," a Mightyena warned them before slipping off into the night. "It's not safe to linger here, where the Exile knows dissenters dwell."
It was strange and awkward for them all. "Home? Where is home!?" Thalia would cry afterwards, when she and Sparktail were alone. "Slick's dead, and half our team is gone. Where else are we supposed to go?!" And yet, Sparktail secretly felt uneasy about Lyther's camp, even though it must be safer here than outside. Wherever 'home' was, this wasn't it.
While Thalia spent her days chatting with Shanala and the Lucarios, Sparktail found himself going through the old motions of his training. It was ridiculous to continue, now that Slick was dead, but the Raichu didn't know what else to do, after all these years. He felt fat and lazy without those routines.
The Raichu would wander into the rotting woods, where he would hit shriveled branches with bursts of electricity. Sometimes, he would stand under the branches as they fell, and try to dart out of the way before they landed on him. It was not easy to replicate the strenuous combat and mobility training exercises. Sometimes he felt was being too soft on himself. But sometimes the branches would collapse and snag his fur.
In the past, Slick had taken each of his Pokemon through one-on-one, 'unusual' training sessions. Sparktail's lessons had adapted sword techniques into tail attacks; that was what he remembered, and what he would do. Lute, Klesr, and Elias all declined to help him, however, as they were all occupied.
So as with the other sessions, Sparktail practiced on his own. There was just one problem; he'd always used a bread knife when training, so as to not wear out his tail. But after a few minutes of using dried branches that shattered into splinters every time he accidentally hit a tree, the Raichu brushed the bits of wood out of his fur, ready to give up.
After a moment, his eyes went to his tail. "Right," muttered Sparktail. He grasped the bolt-shaped tail at its base, the whiplike tendril firm against his paw, though there was a good twelve inches of slack. Channeling energy into his tail, he stared as glowing electricity flared from his tail, taking the shape of a blade.
Clutching his tailblade, he stepped back into proper stance, bringing his tail level with his line of sight. He could almost hear Slick's words in his ears, not a ghost but a memory. "So long as your blade is straight, it will strike true," the trainer would have said. The Raichu took a deep breath- then lunged forward, slashing down as streaks of electricity flashed from his tail.
Back, then forward-slash; then back again, and slash again. His tail felt ached and raw at first, and he began to worry if he had broken any bones in his tail. "Broken bones? These trees are too brittle and dead," laughed Kyria softly as she cleaned his scrapes that night. "But I wouldn't recommend that you ever attack a normal tree."
Whirling around, the Raichu leapt up into the misty air, bringing his electrified tail down on a brittle branch and cleaving straight down through it. Rolling as he landed, Sparktail slashed an X into a shriveled wooden tree trunk, which crumbled into dust as it met the electrified tail. Thrusting back into another withered tree, he leapt back as the trunk came toppling down to the ground with a shower of dust.
Overhead, he thought he saw a faint red blur cross the sky.
Then, something flew past him, and he glanced sharply to see a slender dart half-sunken into a nearby tree, missing his head by inches. "Kreee! Get him," cried a voice. As the voice began to hum, Sparktail whirled around, readying his tail as Bidoofs sprang out of the surrounding withered bushes, lunging for him with outstretched teeth.
Dropping to the ground, the Raichu rolled aside as the tiny brown rodents sprang for him, sparks shooting from his paw at them as he came upright. Striking up with an electrified iron tail into a diving foe, he spun around to zap another lunging attacker. Hissing as a third's buckteeth sank into his leg, he limped back on one paw, lashing out with lightning into the clinging beaver's body until it fell off.
Yelping as glowing leaves slammed into him from behind, the Raichu glanced back to see several Burmys diving for him, biting down into his arm with needlelike teeth whose bites he could already feel swelling. Gathering electricity as drops of blood leaked into his fur, he unleashed a powerful electrical discharge, flinging them all away.
As he sank to the ground, the humming stopped, and something dropped down from a dead tree branch nearby. "Such violence! Such brutish defiance of the Exile's will," clicked the red cricket disdainfully as it stepped out from the fog, brandishing its knifelike arms. "That can never be tolerated!"
Flinching, Sparktail scrambled back as the Kricketune suddenly lunged at him with a war cry, quickly raising his tail to defend himself. As the crossed blade-arms rebounded off the Raichu's tail, the warrior somersaulted over his head and landed behind him. Whirling to meet the Kricketune, Sparktail gritted his teeth as he quickly parried each of the cricket's blows.
Then as the Kricketune lunged for him again, there was a melodic cry, and a ball of blazing blue flame suddenly shot down from the sky and consumed the cricket whole. Gasping, Sparktail scrambled back from the flailing, screeching, burning insect and the sweltering heat that engulfed it, staring as his opponent was reduced to ashes and a burn mark in seconds.
The Raichu stared as an Altaria floated down from the sky towards him, her cloudlike wings filthy but graceful, her eyes tired but cheerful as she landed before him. "Good morning," greeted the Altaria softly, her voice carrying the faintest trill. "I am she who is called Altaria the Herald."
Fluffing out her wings, the dragon-goose smiled at the dumbfounded Raichu rather calmly, as if Sparktail had not just been under attack a moment ago. "I have a message to deliver. Please, do take me to the leaders of this camp."
"Greetings, Altaria the Herald," said Trident, bowing his head as Kyria bandaged Sparktail's wounds. As the Herald hovered before the campfire, the others all stared at her. "I am Trident del Rio; these are Dantor and Lyther, my younger brothers. It is an honor to meet you. I understand that you have a message for us?"
"The pleasure is mine as well, Sir Trident," replied Altaria the Herald as she settled down in the dust, eyes glinting in the hazy sunlight. "Hear me. I come bearing summons from the Four Virtues, who have seen the growing despair in the hearts of the oppressed in these dark times. Under orders, I am to escort any willing Pokemon to a private audience with the Virtues themselves. There, the keys to the future shall open."
The reactions were mixed. Shanala lowered her head, while Lute, Klesr, and Elias began to confer amongst themselves. Sparktail and Thalia exchanged glances, remembering the Four Virtues from Sootopolis City. Who were they, and what plans might they have in store for them?
"You mean for us to step out of this camp?" asked Lyther suspiciously. "There's nothing out there but death and destruction. You claim to come from the Four Virtues; but how can we be sure you speak the truth? How do we know you will not lead us into a trap?"
"Believe what you will, good Lucario," said Altaria calmly. The Lucario blinked. "Only you can choose whom you will serve. I am but the messenger. Whether you come with me or stay here, I shall wait for you all by the gate." She floated off, leaving the others to to stare at each other.