Chapter 27: Intertwined Hearts
One born of ancients, one born of wild
A heavy price paid, the unseen child
Together they strive towards the dawn
And they wish for their homes long gone
In the moonlit meadow on Mount Moon's peak, Sparktail watched and stared at the Pokemon gathering in the softly swaying grass as Skarmories landed around them. Among Dialga's captives, Lute had found not only Klesr and Lute's Swordians, but many other sword-wielding warriors: a Sneasel with a cutlass, a Buizel with a rapier, and a Dragonite with a long black blade among them.
He didn't know the names of their weapons, of course. "Many years ago, as legend has it, all sword-wielders were part of an ancient Guild known as the Swordwrit," said Lute, dipping his head. "We were powerful yet skilled, deadly and trustworthy. Some were assassins; others, knights. Yet we were all one in the Guild."
And one as captives, it seemed. As far as Sparktail could tell, Primal Dialga had been guarding dozens of sword-fighters from across Japan, holding them prisoner at Mount Moon, no matter how deadly or dangerous. "What happened to the guild?" asked the Raichu.
"There was a schism in the guild," replied the long-horned Absol. "In an instant, we were no longer allies, but foes. Friends and family turned upon each other. No one could be trusted. The legacy of sword-bearers was tarnished, and the Swordwrit as all knew it was disbanded."
They watched as Klesr stared up at the Dragonite. The Scyther bowed to the fierce-eyed dragon, who dipped his head in turn. "Everyone looks like friends now," remarked Sparktail.
Lute smiled faintly. "This was the answer I found," said the Absol. "I was a young, angry pup when I left my pack. But by chance, I met an old Swordwrit warrior. He taught me to use my horn. He taught me to be proud of my blade. And ever since that day, I've sworn to see the guild restored. That's what Klesr and I always wanted..."
Insyte stared silently into the distance from where he stood at the edge of the volcano's crater. He looked up into the night sky towards Indigo Plateau, the last cluster of the alluring glittering lights that had once encompassed the continent.
Earlier that morning, news had arrived that Pallet Town and New Bark Town were both destroyed in the night. Giratina's terrible war had crushed city after city, slaying thousands of innocents, and now only Indigo Plateau still stood against the darkness. And for what purpose? Giratina claimed to be fighting to rid the world of humans, for the good of all Pokemon. And yet, Giratina attacked Pokemon too. He enslaved Pokemon, bent them to his will, and killed the ones who defied him.
Giratina was a vicious monster, a monster whose deeds were darker and more terrible than any human's. How could Insyte hope to stand against Giratina's forces, even with the full command over the Vulcanite League at his paws?
His eyes glanced down towards the crater and into the volcano, where the Vulcanites were preparing for war. Magmars mined the magma pools for molten ore. Quilavas forged their armor and weapons in the heat of the volcano. Combuskens practiced their martial arts techniques, training for the impending battle.
Gods. Perhaps they might need the power of gods. No, that was not it. "I cannot be awoken until the crucial hour arrives," Ho-Oh told him. "Such is the law of all immortals. Rest assured, Insyte, I will not abandon my people... your people."
Charizards and Rapidashes performed reconnasiance missions, day and night. Camerupts gathered fuel from the burning magma streams. Insyte was amazed by how readily they followed his orders, surprised by the level of authority he held and the amount of respct the Vulcanites had for him.
And yet, something still felt wrong. Insyte felt out of place in Cinnabar Volcano, as if he was unneeded and... well, not unwanted, but unloved. He thought of how the Vulcanites acted around him, as if he were some sort of mythical deity--to be respected, revered, and honored, but not to be... loved.
"Your Majesty?" Insyte turned around to see Shanala walking up the volcano's slopes towards him. Her eyes glistened with a warm, comforting light, her relaxed, smooth fur flickering with alluring flame. Her tails gently waved from side to side, brushing past Insyte's shoulders gently. "Is something wrong?"
Insyte's charcoal-gray gaze met Shanala's amber-orange eyes. His eyes followed the fox's beautiful fur coat, the fox who had been shunted from one place to another all of her life. From her home, to Slick's team, to Storage, to Heatran's Vulcanites, Shanala had gone from place to place.
But in the end, Shanala had found refuge in the new Vulcanite League, in which she had trusted friends and allies. She held her tails aloft, without fear of being cast out again. After all this time, she would still trust society. Yes--she was magnificent and resilient, surely more so than Insyte could ever be.
"Shanala," said Insyte softly, smiling. "No... nothing's wrong. Because... you're here." He padded forward towards the Ninetales, who stared at him, confused. Affection burned in his heart, a powerful longing which had once crackled lively for Embyr, and which now blazed brightly for this beautiful fox. "Shanala... I love you."
Shanala blinked and stared. "I... what?" uttered the fox, her cheeks growing red. She stepped back, confused. "I... Insyte," said Shanala, cocking her head sideways. "I thought you were in love with Embyr..."
Insyte shook his head. "Though I never forgot Embyr, my relationship with her died a long time ago," said the Flareon. "But Shanala, you understood us both better than we knew ourselves. You've been fighting on your own, all this time. You knew had to be done, and you did it. Shanala... will you be my queen?"
"I..." began Shanala, faltering. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, slowly letting Insyte's warm breath wash over her fur, absorbing his gentle silver-blue gaze, her heart taking in his golden prescence. After so long, after so many struggles--Insyte had chosen her, from all the girls of the Vulcanites, she who had been so bitter to him--she who was his. "Of course, Insyte..."
Toward the pure, untarnished peak of Mt. Silver they flew, above the earth and the oceans. Cloaked in glittering ice, the mountain loomed high above the war-torn land, blank and white. A frigid wind lashed at Sparktail as he slid down from Dialga's back, frost condensing along his blade. Even so, he couldn't help smile.
A few feet away, Lute and other Swordwrit dismounted from their Skarmories, paws crunching in the snow. Bounding down the white path, the Absol led the others to the entrance of the sacred caves beneath the mountain.
Speechless, Sparktail gazed across the world. From the cliff's edge, he could see all of Kanto and Johto, from the ruins of Cianwood to the rubble of Lavender. To the north stood a proud city, resting on an indigo-sloped peak, ringed by eight lesser mountains. He could almost imagine the Champion standing forlornly on his red balcony, watching the end approach.
"Indigo Plateau, the final stronghold of this land," said Dialga as he joined Sparktail, the ground rumbling with his voice. "All the world has paid the price of Giratina's rage. Cities have fallen in every land. The light dies, and virtue fades from this world. This is a blight upon time and space."
Slowly, Sparktail turned to face Dialga, his breath turning to mist, his cheeks crackling. "Dialga, sir--did Slick die for nothing?" asked the Raichu, trying to keep his voice respectful. "You... you don't seem concerned about humans..."
The dragon's eyes were hard and unyielding. "Not all things are born free, Sparktail," answered Dialga with armor like silver and eyes like gold. "The future is in constant flux, for all beings of the earth are subject to each other. Battle is etched into the hearts of all Pokemon. But war is truly the Exile's nature."
And if Giratina destroyed Indigo Plateau, there would be nothing to stop him from destroying the rest of the world, too. The entire world? Sparktail could barely imagine all the regions of these lands, let alone all the lands of the world. "Dialga," said the Raichu quietly, a paw resting on the hilt of his sword. "Why did... what does Giratina fight for?"
"For Giratina, there will always be more things to destroy, more creatures to slaughter," relied the King of Time. "For the Distortion in which he lives is the great chaos beyond the boundaries of time and space. It is a world without structure, without order, without law. Nay, it is not a proper world at all."
"At the heart of the Distortion World, the distinction between physical and spiritual vanishes altogether. In that Void, there is no light and no darkness, no good and no evil, no sadness and no joy. For it is the the corridor between the world and the aether beyond, the route of reincarnation. It is the World Abyss, the passage of the dead."
He looked down at Sparktail, eyes blue and cold. "In your time, the World Abyss was in a cave, and Giratina was charged with protecting it. Then, as he saw the wars of the world, he began to manipulate the Void, nourishing it with violence, saturating it with power."
"But the passage of the dead was never meant for such a purpose. Gradually, the cave was shredded into chaos, becoming the Distortion World. And it was to that chaos which Aluxiver banished him, two thousand years ago."
Aluxiver. The human hero who stopped Giratina. The first Pokemon Trainer of Japan. Creator of the pact between Pokemon and humans. And yet, if Giratina had his way, that pact would become meaningless. "What about this time? Is there any... can we save the world from Griatina?"
"He has already ravaged our world," said the King of Time grimly. "When Giratina slew your trainer and seized the Orbs of Mount Pyre, he awakened the sealed power within the spirits of nature, power from a super-ancient time, power that our world is no longer compatible with. Because the wild spirits of Hoenn rampaged freely, the World's Boundary has weakened."
The mountain trembled under Dialga's footsteps. "And now, he marches on Indigo Plateau, the very foundation of these lands. If Giratina is not stopped, the World Abyss will tear apart the timespace boundary that holds the world intact."
Sparktail knew he should feel horrified, but Dialga's words felt muted, even detached. Perhaps, he simply couldn't imagine the depths of Giratina's evil? He brushed snowflakes from his shoulder and head. "Dialga, why did Lugia give me this sword?" he asked quietly. "No... why did any of us recieve weapons?"
"Surely Lugia had explained," said Dialga, shaking his head. "On the Day of Origin, when the world's boundary was formed, Eight Columns were chosen to guard the world. But godhood is meaningless without the people. Thus, the four great Tanuki tribes of these lands choose four spiritual leaders to guide the people."
Sparktail blinked. Four spiritual leaders? Of course. The Four Virtues. "Mew, Celebi, Jirachi, and Shaymin," said the great dragon. "They have followed unbroken lines of succession since the Day of Origin, passing their power to their descendants, and their descendants' descendants, and so on. In times of crisis, they shall grant their blessings to a chosen hero. A champion."
The Raichu's eyes widened. He recalled the Virtues' words at Sootopolis, at Hearthome, at the Conclave. The Virtues had watched over Slick, guided him, counted on him. "Then... that's what they meant," he whispered, turning to look out across the land. "They chose Slick as their chosen...?"
"Indeed, Slick was chosen by the Virtues, as Aluxiver was chosen two thousand years ago," said the King of Time. "And as the Virtues' chosen, he received the blessings of the Columns, that he might rally humanity and Pokemon against th Exile. A shadow crossed Dialga's face. "But the power of legendary ones is not absolute. A champion cannot be chosen by others. A champion must prove themselves. And thus, Slick failed."
One paw instinctively reaching for his sword, Sparktail stared up at the mighty Column. In the back of his head, he suspected he was missing something that Dialga was trying to explain, but he couldn't think of what it might be. "What will happen now that Slick is gone?" asked the Raichu, not sure whether to hope for or dread Dialga's response.
"None can replace a true champion," said the King of Time as piling snowflakes slid off his armor. "But Slick could not become a champion in the first place. We would have looked to his loved ones... to his friends, his rivals; his teachers, his students. But Aurton Silversky distanced himself from other humans, even his own brother. The only ones dear to him... were his Pokemon."
Sparktail swallowed as Dialga turned his eyes on him. "Once, we gave our blessings to Slick," said the dragon. "Now, we look to his Pokemon. To Rush, to Insyte, to Lyther, to Ferricia, to Thalia, to you. Now, you must carry his legacy. You must take Slick's place, all of you. You must be the champions that Slick could not be."
A champion. One who earned their place in history by proving their worth. That word had a nice ring to it. But when the Raichu looked back at his years with Slick, he wasn't sure if that title fit him. Rush, perhaps, even Insyte or Lyther. Still... if Dialga thought Sparktail was worthy of such a title, who was the Raichu to argue?
Staring down at his sword, Sparktail recalled Slick's lessons, knowledge and technique passed from teacher to student. And within those lessons, affection and trust, responsibility and determination. That was the legacy of Slick, the legacy of a man who cared only about his Pokemon. "Then... from the moment Slick died... the Virtues have watched us--"
"Do you see now, Sparktail?" said Dialga, his eyes gleaming. "But remember that Giratina holds three of the Virtues prisoner, and that he too can draw upon their power. That is why we stand behind you. To all of Slick's Pokemon, his heirs. For you hold the power to protect and the power to harm, the power to build and the power to destroy... because Aurton Silversky lives on, deep inside you."
Just then, there was a rally of howls and whoops from the cave, followed by a joyous cry. Sparktail and the two dragons beside him turned around to face Thalia at the forefront of a vast horde of dogs. The Raichu's jaw dropped; with the sun's light in her eyes and her swords like gems crossing her back, the Leafeon had never looked so beautiful.
Together they emerged from the tunnels, a sea of glowing eyes from countless packs. As Sparktail stared, he could see dozens upon dozens of hounds, male and female and pup, their eyes filled with passionate hope.
Houndours, Growlithes, Elecktrikes, Snubbulls, Poochyenas, Luxios, Houndooms, Arcanines, Granbulls, Manectrics, Luxrays, and Mightyenas stood together as one, side-by-side. As the pack leaders saw Dialga, both halted and lowered themselves prostrate before the mighty king.
Above them all loomed fearsome figure of Palkia, the Sovereign of Space. Looming high over their heads was an immense dragon with palest red and white armor. Two brilliantly pink gemstones were embedded in its shoulders, shimmering brightly in the sky. Its wings were paneled like a skarmory's, and its face glowed red from within its almost seamless armor.
Each of its massive hands had three claws, claws so sharp that they could slice the air into a thousand pieces. The air bent around Palkia as he descended towards where Sparktail and Thalia stood, his body veiled in shining silver. "It was feared that you were gone forever, Dialga," rumbled the Sovereign of Space. "It was said that only the Exile himself could free you."
"Not the Exile, Palkia, but an exile," corrected Dialga as his brother approached him, bowing his head in respect towards the Sovereign. "Are we not all exiles, now?"
The sharp scarlet eyes narrowed as they caught sight of the long-tailed electric mouse who stood on the wintry slope, whose fur and blade were lined with gathering crystals of ice and snow. Then, Palkia snorted, and turned away.
The Leafeon crossed the summit, her leaves rippling in the cold wind. Her nut-brown eyes lit up as she found the Raichu. "Sparktail!" called Thalia, breaking into a sprint. "Oh, Sparktail--I was worried something might've happened."
Blinking, the Raichu turned towards her voice. His eyes widened, her paws bounding through the fallen snow. "Thalia?" he breathed. Then, smiling, he spread his arms wide to greet his friend. "You're all right! I'm so glad--"
The Leafeon placed her paws on Sparktail's shoulders, her eyes warm and bright. Desire suddenly rose within him, strange and fierce. "Hey, your cheeks," said Thalia, frowning, touching a paw to the jagged cheek-pouches. "Did you get hurt?"
"A bit," he admitted sheepishly. "But it's okay, they're healing. So no need to worry." And so they stood together, holding each other tight, feeling the beating of each other's hearts.
"That's right," said Thalia after a moment. "Sparktail... I've been meaning to talk to you." She gently let go of the Raichu, nuzzling his shoulder, and the Raichu's heart quivered.
Embarassed, the Leafeon covered her face. "See, I... I can't stop thinking about you. Over the last few days... no, the last few weeks--I can't stop thinking about you. And... and--" Slowly, she pulled her paws away from her face. "So... um... thanks for always being there."
His breath quickened as the Leafeon's warm flank brush against his. No, he couldn't think about that. "You matter to me too," said the Raichu gently, smiling at her. "You'll always be my closest friend." And he gave her a quick hug.
Her heart raced at his touch, and she giggled nervously. "And you'll always be mine, tooo," she purred back. Vines trailed down from her paws, across the snow, as if reaching for him. "Friends forever... and... maybe even--"
The Raichu's heart quivered, his cheeks heating up again. "The thing is, when I think about you," she whispered into his ear. "When I'm around you, I feel... different. I feel... happier inside. And when you're not around... I feel like something's missing. Like I'm just passing time until we meet up again."
Again the Leafeon blushed, and soft red sparks crackled on the Raichu's cheeks. "And I was just wondering--well... um..." Again, the Leafeon dropped her gaze, unable to look Sparktail in the eye.
The Raichu swallowed. He knew what the Leafeon was trying to say, and it made his heart beat all the faster. "You wondered if... I felt the same way?" he asked tenatively, sitting in the glittering snow next to the Leafeon, who nodded wordlessly, anxiously.
Taking a deep breath, he leaned into her ear. "Of course I do," murmured the Raichu happily, barely containing himself, his cheeks gaining a tinge of red. "Thalia, I... I like you... more than anyone else." Elated, the Leafeon's features lit up. Her vines curled around the Raichu, holding him close to her heart.
Just behind them, Lute stared at Thalia and Sparktail with narrow eyes. But the Absol didn't matter to the Raichu now; all that mattered was Thalia. The one who made his heart race. Who had always been there, would always be there. His lifelong companion.
"Then... from now on, let's be more than friends," whispered Thalia, her chin resting on Sparktail's shoulder. With a blissful smile, she lifted her head and brought her mouth to meet Sparktail's in a union of love.