POKEMON - LEGEND OF THE EXILE
Chapter 7: Ashes to Ashes
"By holy prophecy formed of sages untold
Or ancient legend spoken in times of old
Together, Pokemon must unite as one
Lest vengeance make the world undone"
Swirls of ash filled the air as the five Pokemon beheld the horrific scorched ruins sprawled out before them. Where once a mighty city had stood, there were only hollowed-out shells of buildings, miles of charred wood, tarnished concrete and steel, broken glass, and ashes that filled the air, stinging their eyes and throats. Blinking, Sparktail glanced to Thalia as his friend began to cough and wheeze.
"Fire shall claim, fire shall tame; ashes from the demon's flame," whispered Shanala darkly as they padded down through the wreckage. The streets were strewn with charred debris, hills and valleys of charred wood amidst a scattered procession of fragmented, broken concrete walls.
"On that fateful day when the heart of Sinnoh burned, all the world was changed forever," murmured Altaria from overhead, her wings growing gray with accumulated ash. Shattered glass lay scattered in the debris under gaping square holes where windows had stood, and so they padded cautiously, eyes watching for lingering flames underground. "We mustn't stall. The Virtues are waiting for us."
After a few minutes of wandering through the debris, the five arrived at the cathedral. A chill ran down Sparktail's spine as he picked his way through the ashes, staring through lonely arched openings with shattered stained-glass windows. Charred pews lay buried underneath the collapsed ceiling, which lay piled on the sanctuary floor in chunks of marble, half-charred beams, metal slag, and ashes. As they stepped inside, Shanala thought she sensed a sorrowful presence.
Within the chapel, the stench was as terrible, if not worse, than the misery of Jublife City's streets. The odors of burnt flesh, hair, and bone clung to the desecrated building, tarnished as the day that it was destroyed. Altaria, Sparktail, Thalia, Elias, and Shanala exchanged aghast looks, and then approached the cracked altar at the far end of the center aisle.
As they approached, light shot down from the hole in the ceiling, and four Pokemon appeared on the altar in a blaze of light. Sparktail, Shanala, Thalia, and Elias all bowed low to the floor before the four divine prescences. A chill ran down Sparktail's spine as the Virtues settled down on the altar, and he wondered silently what he was doing here.
"Great Virtues, I have escorted these Pokemon across the tormented lands of Sinnoh to meet with you," called Altaria, rising up to meet her masters, her head dipped in a respectful bow. "I bring before you Thalia, Sparktail, Elias, and Shanala, four Pokemon who have seen the evils of the Exile's law, who long for a brighter world, and will follow you to bring about that light which they seek."
"Thank you, Altaria," said Mew softly, dipping her head. Shanala and Elias exchanged glances, but did not comment. "Two orphaned Pokemon, a Vulcanite fugitive, and a warrior from a long-dead order... Ah, but we shall have much need of bravery like yours, before the war has run its course!"
"It is fitting that we gather here, where the war first broke out," said Celebi, his eyes scanning the broken roof. "As the Exile's legend says... Fire and water and earth and sky, time and space and darkness nigh. At the ancient hero's mythic call, by light and life the shadows fall."
"I sense the key of time," declared Jirachi, his voice rich and mystic in Sparktail's quivering ears, raising his palms heavenward, his gleaming eyes sweeping over the three ashen-faced Pokemon before them. "I see the crystal shining bright, the facets that have endured the blowing sands of time, the unyielding light that shall never falter." He whirled around, setting his gaze upon Elias. "And I sense it from you!"
The last word hung in the air like the ringing of a bell, and all eyes turned to Elias- and the spherical crystal pendant on his neck. "Jirachi, your Honor, if you are referring to my pendant," began the Sceptile heavily, lifting it from his neck. "This was a precious stone given to me as a gift... left to me by my oldest friend."
Sparktail blinked- he thought he'd known Elias as well as any Pokemon could. But he'd never known where the Sceptile's pendant had come from. "Yes, brave Elias; that is what we seek," said Jirachi softly, his eyes wide like thunder. As the Virtue spoke, six shards of crystal- all of which were identical in shape to Elias' pendant- appeared in the air around him. "Come, and let us reunite that shard with its brothers..."
The pendant and the other shards began to pulsate with crystal-blue light as the Sceptile stepped up to the altar, spectral and flickering streaks of light. Holding his ground, Elias watched as the other shards floated towards his pendant, spinning and glowing in midair- then in the blink of an eye, they converged with a flash of light. At once, Sparktail, Thalia, and Shanala gasped as they stared upon the Adamant Orb resting in Elias's outstretched paw, its surfaces still mirror-smooth as the day when it was first cut.
"We were right to wait, my friends," purred Mew, her calm eyes shining cyan as the Adamant Orb floated out of the Sceptile's hand and up towards her. "At last, all of the shards have been recovered. Celebi, Jirachi, Shaymin; this is the proof that we require. At last, we shall rewaken the Seven, and the Silver Conclave's gates shall stand free!"
"The Conclave? Is that all you can see?" demanded Jirachi, his golden eyes slanting with disbelief as he rose to meet Mew. "Have you forgotten the destructive power that the Titans hold? If we rally the Columns to our side, we shall only escalate this conflict Giratina has already slain several thousand innocents by abusing his power; the united Columns shall claim ten times that many if they lead the counterattack. Life and death are not playthings to be trifled with!"
"But if we do not act now, Jirachi, there shall be no counterattack against Giratina at all," argued Celebi, floating up towards the other two Virtues to join Mew's side, crossing his arms as he gazed at Jirachi. "We must take the Orb to Lugia as Mew suggests; he will be roused to war, and he shall summon the others to battle. We must counter power with power; we must beat the Exile at his own game in order to defeat him. Without the aid of the Seven, Jirachi, we cannot win this war!"
"You think like the fools who worshipped my tribe as gods, never suspecting that we were but common creatures from the southern lands," accused Shaymin, swooping up to join his peers. "Does this war belong to us? If we rally the Columns, this conflict shall become a war between champions with closed minds- and the wishes of the common Pokemon becomes irrelevant."
"The war shall not reach Indigo Plateau for several months, let alone any area beyond Japan," agreed Jirachi. "But if we involve Lugia and the others, this war shall become a battle between gods. One by one, titans across the world shall see this conflict and join it, until the entire planet becomes a massive battlefield. You risk plunging all the earth into eternal chaos!" Then the Virtue's voice sank to a whisper. "Just as Giratina desires."
There was a ringing silence in the air. Between the haphazard flight from Lyther's camp, and the Four Virtues' arguement, Sparktail was feeling confused, deeply uneasy, and thoroughly lost. "Honorable guardians, virtues four; my friends and I are in the dark with regards to your debate," interrupted Altaria. "If you would, good virtues, please come back to the ground and share with us your concerns, so that we might aid you in your endeavors."
Celebi, Jirachi, Shaymin, and Mew all turned to gaze at Altaria rather sternly, while Elias and Shanala intently watched the Virtues. "We... offer our apologies for any confusion that we may have caused," said Celebi finally as Altaria landed gently beside the four in a ruffle of cloudlike feathers. "Perhaps we should- as Altaria suggests- include you in our... 'endeavors'." Exchanging glances, the four settled down on the burnt ground to listen.
"Our tale begins twenty-four years ago, when war had not yet broken out, and this city still stood proud," said Mew. "There was a Pokemon born of my blood and my flesh, born of human hands and machines, one who knew only misery and cruelty." Her eyes closed. "He was fire and brimstone, life and death. He was the one named Mewtwo."
"Raised by human scientists as a lab animal, possessing only the most aggressive of Pokemon traits, Mewtwo grew to resent his masters," said Celebi gravely. "Without a conscience to restrain him, Mewtwo soon grew too powerful for the humans to control, and fled into the wilderness. When asked, the scientists could only say that the door to his heart had been closed."
Shanala glanced up at Celebi, alarmed. "A Pokemon who draws strength from inner darkness cannot hide from the devil's eyes," said Jirachi, gazing at the cracked altar. "Mewtwo's hatred of mankind and hunger for power quickly drew the attention of Giratina and his sadistic pleasures. And so, the Exile formed a cursed bargain with Mewtwo."
"With the promise of godhood, Mewtwo gathered the sacred bells which kept his master at bay, and destroyed them both, allowing Giratina to enter our world," said Shaymin, his eyes grim. "But even Mewtwo could not have predicted the bloodbath that would ensue. Free to roam our world, the Exile launched his savage war on humanity with Mewtwo at his side, a war to eliminate every last man, woman, and child from the face of the earth... and even Mewtwo could not hope to stop him now."
"What?" yelped Thalia, her leaves and fur bristling. "You mean- the rest of the world will become like this?" Her eyes swept the destroyed cathedral, surveyong the broken pillars and charred pews behind them. "Desolate... stripped of life... scorched earth..." She shook her head. "Why? This can't be happening...!"
Sparktail touched the Leafeon's flank as she drooped her head; the Raichu didn't know what to say to her. "Virtues, Your Graces- you have told us much of Mewtwo, but not enough of his master," said Elias, rising to one knee. "Is there nothing that we, my allies and myself, can do to stop Giratina?"
"That you have come here already proves much bravery within you," replied Jirachi, floating the Adamant Orb back to Elias. "In the religious doctrine of this land, there are three sacred artifacts. The Adamant Orb is one of these- it is the jewel of Dialga, King of Time. The second is the Lustrous Orb- the pearl of Palkia, Sovereign of Space. The third object is the Griseous Orb, the emblem of Giratina himself- and the key that unlocked his powers."
"When Giratina first escaped from the Distortion World, Dialga and Palkia attacked him," continued Shaymin, dipping his head. "Though the Exile slew Palkia, her Orb was already hidden. Shattering his orb and scattering it across time, Dialga took the Griseous Orb and fled far into the south to Sootopolis. The Exile launched one of the largest assaults in history upon the mountain-city, ultimately recovering his Orb."
He did not have to elaborate. Sparktail and Thalia stared down at the ground silently, remembering weeks of Slick under anxiety, of Rush's reports from council meetings that Slick attended- of that terrible night when Slick was killed defending the shrine at Mt. Pyre, and the three orbs of Hoenn were taken...
"The Adamant and Lustrous Orbs are the keys to time and space, and we cannot let the Exile claim them for himself," said Shaymin. "Regardless of what we attempt against Giratina, we must keep the Adamant and Lustrous Orbs out of Giratina's possession at all costs. You must take them far away from Sinnoh. We have long forsaken the right to carry the Orbs; we cannot wield such power without becoming as terrible as Giratina himself."
"As for transportation, Altaria the Herald shall accompany you," added Celebi. Blinking, Sparktail glanced to the Herald, who looked just as astonished as he felt. "Off the southern cape of Sinnoh lies the Wide Shot, a long-traversed flight route where time and space are compressed and the winds turn divine. It was through this passage that the Exile was able to invade Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and other lands throughout the world, so quickly."
"But with the stabilization of the war, the Exile resealed the Wide Shot, fearing that demoralized troops would defect by escaping through this tunnel," said Jirachi gravely. "In order to re-open the Wide Shot, you must possess the Lustrous Orb as well as the Adamant Orb. And you must watch over both Orbs." He then looked to the Herald. "Altaria, the Wide Shot shall allow you to travel from Sinnoh to Hoenn in less than two days."
"But where will we take the Orbs?" cried Thalia, glancing to each of the Virtues. "Won't Giratina come after us if we have these... Orbs? Isn't there... like... a safe place somewhere that we can put them?!"
Mew shook her head. "You must carry them wherever you go," said the Mystic of Hope gravely, her voice like crystal bells. "Far across the churning seas, there lies a hidden island known as the Silver Conclave. It is the ancestral home of the Silver Summoner Lugia, lord of dreams and spirits; and it is the only place truly safe from Giratina. But if we reveal the Conclave, it may well escalate the war tenfold- as Jirachi fears."
"No, Thalia- it shall be far safer with you." Her eyes then glittered as she looked to the other Virtues. "But should the Conclave expose itself- and you will know when it does... take the Orbs and present them to Lugia, for he is equal in might to the Exile, and will surely bring an end to him!"
Suddenly, there was a sound like a pair of metal shutters slamming shut, and a shadow fell over the sky. "Look out!" shouted Elias, his arms wrapping around Sparktail, Shanala, and Thalia, and yanking them back as glowing black nets fell from the ceiling to the altar, sending clouds of dust up into the air.
Coughing, Sparktail and the others got to their paws, brushing dust from their fur as the haze settled. A few feet away, Jirachi, Celebi, and Shaymin picked themselves up out of the ashes from where they had flung themselves down from the altar.
"Mew!" cried Altaria from overhead. Up on the altar, Mew lay trapped inside a spherical cage with violet-glowing bars. Before any of them could shout for her to stop, the Herald dove at the Virtue's cage, only to by flung to the ground by an invisible force on impact. "Let me try," called out Shanala, stepping up and opening her maw to breathe fire on the cages.
"Now, now!" cried a cold, unearthly voice that stopped the Ninetales dead in her tracks. "Let us not be so foolish, so as to... shall we say... burn away our hope?" The three uncaptured Virtues froze, their eyes scanning the paintings as empty laughter echoed across the cathedral. Backing away from the altar, the Pokemon all stared as a misshapen figure crawled out the altar's shadow, rising into the air before them.
Exchanging frantic glances, Sparktail, Thalia, Shanala, Elias, and the Herald all stared at the awful, jagged creature before them, shrouded in pitch-black. Cold gray vapors billowed from the creature's glowing red neck-stump, framing a single blue crystalline eye. "Darkrai," said Elias furiously, pointing his leaf-blade at the shadow-creature, his eyes narrowing. "You've been following us!?"
"Trapped like rats, ensnared by the strings of a god," hissed the Black Prince, floating up to the altar where Mew struggled helplessly. "So predictable, so cyclical; you think to unite the end with the beginning, to step out into the open when the peril is greatest. The darkness comes, and you cannot fight it; but still you press on... and the trap closes its jaws around you." Mew gave a small cry as the lieutenant lifted the cage with a cruel smile. "Aaah, yes! And what a catch I have tonight!"
He spun around with Mew's cage, his eyes locked upon Celebi, Jirachi, and Shaymin as they advanced upon the altar with furious eyes. "All of you, in the flesh! Did you think you could simply watch and sow your hideous light while the world burned? Ah, such foolish creatures you are, for all the divine roles you play! The Exile shall bleed your light away, little kitten..."
A chill ran down Sparktail's spine, but he couldn't dwell on Darkrai's words. Somewhere on the edge of his vision were moving shadows, dark shapes with doom echoing from their every step. Thalia drew a pair of slender leaf-blades from her back as the Raichu raised his tail like a sword; Shanala dropped back into a hunting crouch as Elias drew his leaf blade. "Darkrai! Don't move!" shouted Shaymin, his fur bristling.
Just then, the front doors flew open, revealing a pair of Gallades standing in the doorway, followed by a Bastiodon, six Shieldons, four Croagunks, and three Rotoms. "Seize the Virtues, but kill the rest," ordered Darkrai as he rose up into the air, casting a shadow over the Pokemon below. Their eyes glowing white, the Gallades crossed their glowing bladelike arms from just outside as the others filed inside, and energy fields began to form a vast dome surrounding the entire chapel. They were trapped!
As Sparktail glanced back over his shoulder towards Darkrai, the Black Prince rose up into the air, still clutching Mew's cage in one hand. "No!" shouted Celebi as Darkrai and Mew flew out through the hole in the roof, through the shadow barrier, and out of sight. Followed by Jirachi and Shaymin, the forest sprite flew after the lieutenant, crashed headfirst into the barrier, and tumbled back down to earth. Letting out war cries, the soldiers charged at the group with fangs bared.
Scrambling up onto a toppled pew as the Bastiodon charged at him, Sparktail slashed down at a high-leaping Shieldon, his iron tail rebounding off the Pokemon's helmet. Whirling around, electricity flew from his cheeks and slashing tail at his charging foes as they battered at him relentlessly. Five pews down, Thalia cried out in pain as a swift punch from a Croagunk's fist connected struck her flank, sending her reeling back as she flung a razor leaf into his shoulder.
Dark energy jets chased the three remaining Virtues as they took to the air, pursued by Rotoms screeching like car tires against asphalt. Shadow balls crashed against the walls, just barely missing Celebi, Jirachi, and Shaymin as they shot psychic bolts back at their pursuers. The wet slashing sounds of Elias' leaf blade through flesh made Shanala's belly churn as she breathed fire upon a diving Sheldon, Altaria screaming in mid-flight as toxic shots burst all around her.
Down from the sky, a Skarmory with a Swampert on her back dove down towards the chapel in a flash of metal wings. At the chapel doors, both Gallades glanced back over their shoulders as the steel bird came streaking straight through them like a bullet, hurtling them both to the ground. Almost instantaneously, the force field dissolved.
"Ferricia! Rush!" gasped Thalia as the duo shot forward into the chapel. Stunned, the others turned to stare as Rush sprang down from Ferricia's back with a roar, trembling the ground and causing debris to fall from the ceiling. At once, Sparktail dove out of the way of a falling stone plinth as crumbling timbers dropped to the ground, taking several Rotoms down with them.
"Let's go!" shouted Rush as he sprang into battle. Burly fists smashed into Shieldon helmets as leaf blades, electrified tails, fireballs, and psychic bolts flew across the broken chapel. Screeching, Ferricia tore into Croagunk flesh with her steel talons and razor wings. Their terror forgotten with the Swampert's arrival, the Pokemon battered down their foes one by one.
As the Bastiodon charged at Rush, the Swampert grabbed his foe by the helm, swinging the gargantuan beast around and hurling him up into the air, where Ferricia flew into the mighty beast's unprotected belly with another screeching cry, slamming the Bastiodon into the far wall with a sickening crunch. The body crashed to the ground, and then the chapel descended into silence.
Heart still pounding rapidly, his tail aching, Sparktail stumbled to his paws, staring at the heavily panting Swampert in the center aisle, who was joined shortly thereafter by Ferricia. Still recovering his breath, the Raichu glanced to Thalia as she crept out from under a wash basin with wide brown eyes. A few feet away, Elias wiped his leaf blade clean on his leg while Shanala gave Rush a stern, hard look.
"Rushing River and Ferricia Silversky," greeted Celebi as he, Jirachi, and Shaymin descended towards the duo, who both bowed their heads. "It is an honor to see that such admirable warriors are still alive. I... only wish that we had met on happier circumstances."
"Circumstances? I'd say we did pretty well," chuckled Rush, scanning the destroyed chapel. "We're all good and safe, eh?" A shadow crossed Jirachi's features, and Shaymin filled in Rush and Ferricia on the information that had been shared before the warriors' arrived. Slowly the smile vanished from the Swampert's face.
"We must go to save Mew," said Jirachi, looking to the other two Virtues- then to Sparktail, Thalia, Rush, Ferricia, Elias, and Shanala, his eyes settling on Altaria. "Dear Herald, I must ask you to accompany these Pokemon on their mission. You know what you must do! Find the Orb. Find the Wide Shot. Escape Sinnoh. We must stop Giratina!"
Then without further ado, the three Virtues fled off into the twilight storm overhead.