Chapter 28: The Heroes Gather
Leave one to tread the path of light
Find binding wings at battle's right
Through twisted sky and burning tide
Now rise from the dust, side by side
Deep within Cinnabar Volcano, in the central magma chamber, an island of volcanic glass loomed over a swirling, molten lake.
High atop the obsidian mount, Insyte surveyed the vast reaches of his fiery domain from his ancient perch, his ebony eyes meeting an endless sea of awed gazes from the Vulcanites gathered on the distant slopes on the far edges of the mighty cavern, three hundred feet away.
The obsidian island was ringed with magnificent pillars of volcanic glass which glowed red-hot in the sweltering heatwaves, each engraved with the Vulcanite League's crest, a heart formed from angular flames. In the center loomed the great petrified body of a magnificent, rainbow-feathered bird.
Insyte looked to his beloved Shanala whose pelt and radiant eyes shone with golden light. On the other side of the circle stood the lieutenants, all eyes upon the Phoenix Orb in Insyte's paws. The sphere of fiery crystal pulsed and rippled as the Flareon set it down on the ground.
Etched deep into the obsidian beneath his paws, the Flareon could barely make out the shape of a diamond divided into eight triangular wedges, barely visible beneath thousands of years' worth of volcanic ash and smoke and dust.
Insyte, Shanala, Marrow, and Canir. The Vulcanite leaders stood in a circle beneath the volcano's sky-blue crater, their hearts filled with a single wish, a wish of hope."Ho-oh," murmured Shanala softly. "Watch over us, on this dire venture."
A haze began to rise from the Orb like incense smoke, rising and swelling. Swirling around Ho-Oh, the dust began to glow gold, coating the great Pokemon's body. Then, a flash of blinding golden light swept over the island, and the watching Vulcanites around the cavern gasped.
Rubbing his eyes, Insyte squinted up to see two massive wings with multicolored feathers blottting out the sun. He saw a beak, plummage, and tail feathers, all a rich gold; fierce eyes like passionate flame. Awed, the Flareon watched as Ho-Oh rose up into the air.
"Ho-oh, god of fire and hope," cried Marrow, lifting his fiery muzzle towards the sky with a joyous howl as the phoenix proudly soared around the cavern. "Grant us your power. Lead us to victory!"
Landing before them with a flourish of rainbow flowers, Ho-Oh opened its golden beak and spread its rainbow-like feathers to their fullest. It turned its dangerous yet bright eyes upon the Flareon as Shanala, the Houndoom, the Arcanine, and the Blaziken warily backed away from the magnificent beast.
"Insyte Faldsem, lord of the Vulcanites," called Ho-Oh. Fire seemed to sweep through Insyte's bloodstream as he padded forward with the Phoenix Orb, staring up at the Golden Protector. "Your friends gather at Mount Silver, alive and free. Now is the time to strike at the Exile!"
Scarlet Streak bared her teeth as she and a host of Gabites descended upon Blackthorn, crowned by mountain-ridges like a dragon's horn. Crimson energy waves trailed from her wings, her claws and scales becoming webbed and sleek.
Above the old village watched Lance the Elite, riding on his fathful Dragonite, Sabre. Dragon and rider had seen city after city fall before the Exile's wrath, every attempt at rescue ending in vain. Now, with the war arriving at the doorstep of their home and clan, they would make their last stand.
With hungry eyes, the Red Dragon descended as the crest of a blazing wave upon the village. Nodding down to his cousin Claire, Lance stretched out a hand, signaling to the Gyaradoses and Flygons behind him. Dragons and tamers rose from the rock face to meet the descending strike force.
Scarlet and Sabre grappled each other tightly as they hurtled through the air, slashing and clawing at each other. With the ferocity of her shark ancestors, the Red Dragon tore into the Dragonite's belly, Lance clinging to his companion's back.
Dragonflame filled the sky in streaks of gold and blue. Lance's red hair flattened against his head in the wind as Garchomp and Sabre, locked in a deadly embrace, spiraled up into the sky. "Hang in there, Sabre," called Lance, the wind sweeping through his hair as they climbed.
Vicious claws tore into the Dragonite's belly. Sabre shook his head wearily, as if to say, "I can't. I"m sorry."
"Sabre," pleaded the dragon-tamer desperately. A memory of his grandfather handing him a Dratini egg rising to his mind. Sabre had been his very first Pokemon, from all those years ago. Not only the first dragon he tamed, but his first friend.
Roaring, Scarlet Streak twisted her head and sank her jaws into Sabre's neck. The Dragonite's eyes widened, his body convulscing beneath his horrified rider. Savage pleasure filled the Garchomp's eyes as Lance struggled in vain to pull Sabre back, powerless to stop the red dragon, powerless to save his friend.
Gradually, the beating of Sabre's wings weakened, slowed, stopped. Eyes gleaming, the monstrous Garchomp dove down toward the battlefield as Dragonite and rider plummeted toward the lake, bleeding, dying.
A brittle wind swept across the peak of Mount Silver as Sparktail and Thalia huddled close to each other in the entrance of a cave tunnel. Out on the white-capped summit, the Swordwrit and the Wild Alliance stirred from their makeshift dens, milling about the plateau. At the top of the mount, Dialga and Palkia stood side by side, watching the skies anxiously.
"S-so cold," shivered Thalia, shaking snowflakes from her leaves. The Leafeon pressed her cold nose into Sparktail's warm fur, untidy vines weaving around them both to shield them from the falling snow. Letting his tail gently curl around Thalia, the Raichu hugged her close, inhaling her lovely scent. With a bashful smile, the Leafeon nuzzled his cheek, both their spines tingling.
Down below, they saw Lute talking to the Dragonite with the black greatsword. The Absol's eyes were filled with relief and genuine pride--an earnest joy that Sparktail hadn't seen in him before. "He looks... satisfied," said the Raichu quietly. Following his gaze, Thalia stiffened, then nodded.
After a moment, they noticed Shock padding across the snow towards them. "There you are, Thalia," said the Manectric, nodding, his eyes glowing. "You look well." He looked at the Raichu, his mouth twitching with amusement. "And you must be Sparktail? Thalia's said quite a bit about you." He held out a paw. "Shock, Wild Alliance captain under Suicune."
Her face growing hot, the Leafeon quickly looked down to hide her face as Sparktail tenatively shook paws with the Manectric. "An... an honor to meet you, Shock," stammered the Raichu. Flushing, he glanced to Thalia, who covered her mouth to stifle a nervous laugh. Then he'd been on her mind, even as they set out from the Conclave? "I... I didn't know Manectrics lived in Johto."
At that moment, a crystalline cry rang out from below, and Pokemon around the summit turned as Dialga and Palkia sat up, a rumble rising in the distance. Gasps filled the air as Lugia and several dozen Skarmories rose up from below the summit in perfect formation, carrying hard-eyed refugees from the Conclave. On Lugia's back rode Shaymin and Lyther, guiding the Iron Fleet up to the mountaintop.
The Lucario wore a magnificent blue-white cape, clutching his azure crystal spear in one paw. As Lugia landed in the snow, the warrior slid down the legendary's back, snow crunching under his paws as he landed. Exchanging stunned glances, Sparktail and Thalia approached their old teammate while Shock stared supiciously.
"At my command, the Iron Fleet soars free again," said Lyther proudly, twirling his speat, his cape rippling in the icy wind. "Greetings to you, my friends and allies."
The Lucario then eyed Sparktail and Thalia with a mischievous grin. "So you two mates now or something?" chuckled Lyther with a knowing gleam in his eye. At once, their cheeks flushed bright red with embarassment. "I'll take that as a yes."
Suddenly, the entire mountain summit gave a shudder, and the five Pokemon froze in alarm. Panic flickering at the edges of his mind, Sparktail looked up toward the frosty slope to see Rayquaza rising above the hallowed peak like magnificent jade.
At the same time, a mighty bird's cry pierced the winds with fiery pride high above them, and a shadow swept over their heads. At once, Lyther stepped aside to stand beside Lute, Shock, Thalia, and Sparktail as their gazes shot up towards the immense sillouette of a giant phoenix whose rainbow feathers and golden plummage filled the heavens. The Pokemon stared as Ho-oh swooped down from the skies with thirty or so Charizards, descending upon the icy summit.
"Houou!" cried the protector once more as a Flareon and a Ninetales leapt down from its back and padded down the snowbound slope towards the others, their eyes alight with determination and burning glory. Tucked under the Flareon's toasted-brown neck fur, the Phoenix Orb dangled from a golden chain, its insides brimming with merry flames.
"Insyte--and Shanala." Warily, Sparktail began to reach a paw for the sword on his back as the two approached. Stifling a giggle, Thalia playfully took the Raichu's paw with her own before he could draw his sword. "Is that you?"
"Sparktail, Thalia, Lyther," greeted Insyte with a voice proud with lively fire, his eyes meeting each of the other warriors' gazes. "I am the new lord of the Vulcanite League, their true master... just as my parents foretold."
"Hello, friends and allies," greeted Shanala as she slipped gracefully across the snow towards them. Insyte's fluffy tan tail flicked Shanala's shoulder affectionately as the Ninetales calmly strode forward to stand beside him. "It's been a long time since we first parted ways at the Conclave. And during that time, I can see that each of us have become warriors in our own rights."
Thalia and Sparktail exchanged awkward glances as Shanala planted a small kiss on Insyte's cheek, not noticing the Ninetales' wink to the Flareon. The four Pokemon then glanced at each other in a nervous silence, their cheeks flushing pink with embrassment. "So, you two are mates now?" exclaimed Insyte and Thalia in unison, before they both burst into laughter. Sparktail and Shanala both went red. Behind them, Lyther grinned and buried his face in one paw, Altaria snorted with laughter, and Lute and Suicune simply rolled their eyes.
At the top of the mountain, the Pokemon of legend gathered: Lugia, Ho-Oh, Dialga, Palkia, and Rayquaza. "I see neither Groudon nor Kyogre here," said Ho-Oh grimly. "They were never lucid by nature; ought we to trust that they fight against our enemy?"
Thalia and Sparktail exchanged glances. Hadn't Kyogre and Groudon promised their aid against Giratina? Had they awoken the super-ancient Pokemon of Hoenn for naught, then?
Rayquaza cleared his throat. "They are forces of natural chaos, but Giratina is a force which violates nature," said the great dragon firmly. "It is fitting that such wild spirits not join us... not when we go to fight in the name of protecting order." After a moment, the others nodded in agreement--accepting his judgement.
"At last, the heroes gather," called Rush's deep, powerful voice. Sparktail and the others glanced up as Altaria the Herald descended toward the summit, her eyes shining bright, carrying the Swampert on her back. As they landed, Rush carefully dismounted and padded over to his friends, his body brimming with strength and eight years' worth of honest training.
At once, the other Pokemon--even Lute and Shock--fell silent and snapped to attention, drawn to the old hero's aura of discipline and command. "I'm sorry to interrupt this happy reunion," said the Swampert, his voice perfect in confidence and power as he continued down the slope towards them, the attentions of the Skarmories, Charizards, and the other warriors locked firmly upon his every word. "But it seems Giratina's finally marching upon Indigo Plateau. We've got no time to waste on pleasantries. We've got to strike."
At first, Sparktail wondered with what authority that the Swampert spoke these words, and he glanced around the summit to see if Rush had brought an army of his own. Then his eyes fell upon Shaymin standing proud at the top of the slope, and he saw that the Seed of Prosperity's azure gaze was firmly locked on the old warrior.
We're his army, realized Sparktail with a jolt as he glanced around to the multitude of the other warriors, both midair and on ground alike. He tightened his pawgrip on his sword as his eyes fell back upon Rush, and the Raichu could feel the immense respect the Swampert now commanded. They were the army that will fight to stop Giratina, and Rush was their general.
"This is our time," declared the hero, his eyes glistening intently as they swept around the summit to each of the other warriors. "Giratina's destroyed our homes and chased us from our territory. He's killed our friends and our families, and strewn the vestigal debris of our lives across the world. There is not a single soul amongst us who has been left unscathed by his unending malice. We have to stop him!"
To accentuate his point, the Swampert raised a hand to the sky and clenched it into a tight, bitter fist, as if to grasp the lost fragments of his soul that Giratina had shattered. "Long ago, he was cast down from the realms of the divine, and exiled into the underworld. 'I am the Exile, tormented since the dawn of time,' he said. And with those words he rallied the slums of the wild to his side. But we are the Exiles now, and Giratina's the tormentor. We are the ones who must defeat him." His eyes swiveled around to rest upon Sparktail and Thalia. "We are the Retrievers. We are the ones who will retrieve this world."
The two exchanged stunned glances. Team Retrievers, mouthed Thalia silently through the faint icy mist. The leaves adorning the Leafeon's ankles, forehead, and neck bristled with surprise as excited sparks crackled across Sparktail's jagged cheeks. Was Rush's choice of words a coincidence? Or had the Swampert remembered the name of Ilun's exploration team, the ancient legacy of Thalia's father? No, thought Sparktail as he stared around the mountain, not an ancient legacy. At last, Team Retrievers lives again.
"This is our time; this is our chance," declared Rush, the hovering Skarmories and the Charizards on either side of the icy slope floating closer to the Swampert eagerly. "We are an army of retrievers. Together, we can retrieve our world from terror; we can retrieve hope from Giratina's terror. Exile against Exile, the shadows fall. Let's set out and stop Giratina in his tracks, once and for all!"
A massive cheer rang out across Mount Silver as dozens of warriors and their winged steeds, Swordwrit, Wild Alliance, Vulcanites, refugees, Insyte and Lute and Lyther and Thalia and Sparktail and Altaria, Shaymin and the Seven Columns and Rush himself, all raised their mouths to the sky and let loose an earsplitting explosion of vibrant cries that reverbrated across Mount Silver. They were Team Retrievers, and they would stop Giratina.
One by one, Vulcanites, Swordians, hounds, and the other warriors climbed up onto Skarmories, their eyes shining bright as they gazed towards Indigo Plateau where the storms of war gathered. Shanala buried her muzzle in Insyte's thick fur collar as they mounted Ho-oh's back once more, and Rush clambered up onto Dialga.
As Lute approached a Skarmory, Shaymin stepped between the long-horned Absol and the armored steed. "Lute, first of the Swordians," said the Seed of Prosperity, his thick white fur bristling with anticipation as he stared directly into the canine's eyes with a piercing blue gaze. "If I do not return from this battle, watch over my daughters and their families for me."
"I pledge it upon my honor," growled Lute as he settled down on his armored steed's back, his voice just loud enough for Sparktail to hear as the Raichu led Thalia towards Lugia.
As he helped Thalia climb up onto Lugia's back, Sparktail sheathed his sword, and then leaned in to kiss the Leafeon on the cheek before turning his attention towards the city in the mountains to the north, the mystical city of Indigo Plateau. Dark storm clouds and vile winds contaminated the heavens with destruction, rolling towards humanity's final sanctuary as if to signal Giratina's impending assault.
Palkia, Dialga, Rayquaza, Ho-oh, and Lugia locked eyes with each other, and then nodded silently with grim determination. Thalia lifted her head high and gave a valiant uplifting cry, sending warmth trickling through Sparktail's heart at the sound of his mate. Suddenly, the ground sharply fell away from beneath Lugia's rising wings as legendaries, Skarmories, and Charizards bore the Retrievers high into the sky, and towards their impending destiny at Indigo Plateau.