LEGEND OF THE EXILE - Volume IV: Operation Retrieval
Chapter 34: Shock's Patrol
One for the ancient legends reborn
One for the destiny's call forsworn
One for the watcher's eternal eye
One for the warrior's blood to die
Arms crossed, Sparktail watched as Rush, Insyte, Lyther, Suicune, and the other Retriever leaders pored over maps and battle formations. His cheeks crackled, the wall pressing his fur flat against his back. A few feet away sat Shanala, her eyes gleaming like rose quartz. Her fur was immaculately groomed, her tails soft and smooth as silk.
The Ninetales was almost unrecognizable, dolled up as she was. Sparktail glanced around the room, hoping Thalia would return soon. "Aren't you going to join the others?" said Shanala solemnly. Surely, Rush would appreciate you and Thalia on his war council. After all, he named this army after Thalia's father's Team Retrievers."
Sparktail felt a surge of frustration. He hadn't thought about those days in a while, and he didn't want to think about them right now. "We're not staying long," said the Raichu shortly. "You're not joining in either."
Shanala chuckled. "I'm not quite used to my current circumstances," said the Ninetales. "Insyte, king of the Vulcanites? And me as his queen? All those looks of adoration are more than I can believe. So, I don't think I can speak for the Vulcanites yet. But Insyte's taken to his role quite well."
Clutching his sword, Sparktail tried to imagine Insyte leading the Vulcanites into battle, but could only dredge up unpleasant memories of Insyte's nastier days. After all, he hadn't liked the Umbreon much, and hadn't much time to get used to the Flareon.
The doors opened, and the Raichu perked up a little. "Sparktail, I'm ready!" called Thalia, smiling. Her leaves rippled faintly in the breeze. "Shall we go?"
Getting up, the Raichu picked his bag. "Yeah," said Sparktail. "Let's go join Shock." Without looking back, he headed outside to join Thalia. Why was it so hard to talk to Slick's other Pokemon, now?
And now, 24 hours later, Sparktail, Shock, Thalia, and eighteen others swooped down from the sky on the backs of their Skarmories en route to Hoenn, the wind swishing through their fur as they soared down towards the landmass below.
The Raichu clung to his Skarmory's neck, his pack filled and his sword on his back. At the front of the patrol rode Shock with a confident, golden gleam in his eyes. Turning to the adjacent Skarmory, Sparktail exchanged a nervous smile with Thalia, the wind rushing past his ears. Vaguely, he recalled Shock's debriefing.
"The honorable Suicune has sent us to investigate the situation in Hoenn," Shock had said as he paced up and down the row of Pokemon standing in formation. "General Rush has reasons to believe that Giratina withdrew the bulk of his forces in Hoenn during the assault on Indigo Plateau, allowing us to retake our homeland!"
Ketrail the Zigzagoon barked happily to this statement. "It will take many days, perhaps even weeks, before we take the fight to Sinnoh," the Manectric warned. "But in the meantime, let us seize back Hoenn, from which all things were born. Let us return home, and reclaim it from the Exile!"
Back in the present, Sparktail held onto his steed's neck as the twenty-one Pokemon and their steeds began their spiraling descent toward Slateport. Forcing the nauseating bile of vertigo back down his throat, he stared upon the desolate seaport whose shattered houses and once-proud market square had once bustled with commerce.
A Shadow Ball streaked past the Raichu to just barely miss the tip of his ear, and Sparktail looked to see a pack of Haunters descending upon the Skarmories with outstretched shadow claws.
He heard distant cannon roars, and a high-velocity fireball suddenly hit the Skarmory in front of him, blasting it and its rider out of the sky. Sparktail stared, aghast. Down below, he saw a barge of anti-air Magmortars in Slateport's bay.
"What the hell?" shouted Shock. "Everyone, descend!" The other Pokemon tightly wrapped their paws around their armored steeds' necks. Exchanging glances, Sparktail and Thalia hastily followed suit as the Haunters let loose another barrage of shadow balls, followed by a salvo of magma shots.
Together, the Slarmories dove sharply toward the destroyed seaport. Wind pressed up against Sparktail's belly and swelled his cheeks, the Haunters just behind them. He squeezed his eyes shut as the ground rushed up to meet them. After so many flights, why did this one scare him?
"Dismount!" shouted Shock as hos Skarmory leveled out just a level out just before colliding with the dirt. Letting out affirmative barks, the others slipped down from their steeds to come tumbling to a stop in the dust.
Sparktail and Thalia fought down their every survival instinct, and rolled off down from their Skarmories' backs with mingling cries, rolling as they hit the ground, pain flaring like a wall along the Raichu's back. Panting for breath, coughing on the rising cloud of dust, the duo stumbled to their paws and brushed dust off their fur.
"You all right?" asked the Leafeon, glancing to Sparktail, then eyeing the other Retrievers nervously. They'd only been here five minutes, and both of their pelts were ragged and torn-- but both of them were alive, and that was what mattered.
But some were not so lucky. A chill ran down Sparktail's spine as he heard a terrified scream overhead. Exchanging glances with Thalia, the Raichu glanced up as a ball of shadow-flame engulfed a panicking Vileplume on a Skarmory, consuming both steed and rider in a horrific burst of heat, leaving only charred remains to splash down into the bay.
"I... I've never done such a steep dive before," admitted the Raichu, twitching his ears and turning his gaze away from the motionless bodies floating in eternal sleep on the surface of the ocean waters. "Closest I came was at Indigo Plateau... and that was scary enough."
"I wish Ferricia was here," said Thalia as the riderless Skarmories swooped back up into the haze to meet the Haunters with outstretched talons. Slowly, the dust finally began to settle, revealing the broken landscape of Slateport around them. Sparktail's throat went dry; almost half the patrol had been shot down, and the rest looked in bad shape.
Strewn across the vast expanse of cracked pavement lay the broken bones of destroyed ships and obliterated buildings, scattered bodies of both humans and Pokemon, their final moments huddled together in tears.
There was nothing to do but stare at the figures that the Exile's armies had left buried in the destruction for the Rattatas swarms to feed, turning fetid in the wash of ocean spray against Slateport's desecrated docks. "I'll never get used to this."
Sickened by the grisly spectacle, Sparktail turned away and stared out to sea. No matter how often he saw the signs of Slick's cruelties, from the slave camps in Sinnoh to the tainted lake in Sootopolis, nothing could ever prepare him for discovering a new horror performed in the Exile's name.
"All right, everyone," said Shock between heaving breaths, surveying the warriors around him with stern blue eyes as they snapped to attention. "How many of us left?" He paled as they sounded off--only twelve remained. "Right, right... we'll search for survivors and get out before more ghosts arrive. Let's go!"
Sparktail and Thalia followed a Wartortle down the crumbling remnants of a narrow alley, eyes scanning their desolate surroundings for signs of life. Even four months after the city's cruel obliteration, wisps of gray dust still clung to the air like weeping ashes, coating their pelts and shell in a veil of fine dust.
Cringing, he turned his eyes away from the filthy pavement as the three passed half-gnawed bodies lying in the street suppressing a shudder as Rattatas scampered over their paws in the shadows, the stench of rotting flesh filling his nose and mouth.
These weren't just rotting flesh- they were once people. These were people he might have seen during Slick's early Hoenn tours, people who walked and ate and slept and lived such ordinary lives. These were people and Pokemon who had done nothing wrong. What did Slick want?
There were stacks of crushed steel girders and shattered oak timbers as far as the eye could see, the air broken by melancholy ocean waves. "This is hopeless," muttered Sparktail as they emerged from the alley. The Wartortle and Thalia both glanced at the Raichu, startled. "There's no one here. Anyone who lived, got away. Everyone else... didn't make it." Thalia shuddered, but didn't reply.
"We've found someone!" called the Delcatty in the distance. Up and down the street, other Retrievers peeked out of various nooks and crannies to listen. "Guys, come quick!"
"Or maybe not, Raichu," said Sheltur as the other Retrievers began to emerge from alleys and broken buildings. "Let's go see what Delia's found, shall we?" Chuckling, the Wartortle lumbered off towards the feline waiting at the end of the street, with Thalia and Sparktail following after him.
As they headed on, they noticed other patrol members filing into the abandoned market square to check out Delia's discovery, followed by other survivors. Tattered flags rippled overhead. Sparktail, Thalia, and the Wartortle joined a growing crowd of about twenty, thirty, forty..
The Raichu stared at the Pokemon stumbling into the market square. Unkempt, half-starving survivors stared around the plaza, cracked pavers creaking under their feet. Why were so Pokemon many still here?
Overhead, the Skarmories were retreating, drawing the Haunters away. Squeezing his way between a Zangoose and a Growlithe, the Raichu squinted at Delia, who was surrounded by a Torchic, a Poochyena, a Pikachu, and a Plusle, all retreating from the watching gazes.
"It's all right, it's all right," cooed Delia, patting the Plusle on the head with a paw, only for her to recoil and hide under a rock. Sighing, the Delcatty glanced around the crowd. "So... now what?"
With the chatter of the surrounding Pokemon filling their ears, Thalia and Sparktail watched as Shock wound his way through the crowd. "We'll have to wait for the Magmortars to clear off," said Shock, glaring at the bay. "Everyone here? Right, now what the hell do I say..."
Surveying the Pokemon gathered around him, Shock lifted his head. "This is Shock of the Wild Alliance," said the Manectric. Dozens of haggard eyes stared back at him. "Please don't be alarmed. The war's finally turning around. Soon, you won't live in fear of the Exile."
The Pikachu tugged the Plusle out from hiding while the Torchic tilted her head sideways at the Manectric. "It's clear you've all been through a great ordeal," continued Shock. "But we can get you out of here. Once the Skarmories return, they'll fly you safely back to Kanto, where our allies can take you in."
"Hold it, you stupid mutt," interrupted the Pikachu, walking up to Shock so she was in his face. Cheeks crackling angrily, she crossed her arms. "You think you can just get us to up and leave? I don't care who you are, human or Pokemon. You won't push us out. We're never surrendering to the Exile!"
Sparktail and Thalia exchanged glances as the other survivors gave cries of assent. Shock, Delia, and the other Retrievers stared as the Pikachu glared at them. "Alright, look, I don't think you understand," said the Manectric. "We're not with the Exile; we're against him. And quite frankly, Pikachu, this town of yours is a total mess--"
"For your information, my name's Amber," snapped the Pikachu. "And I'm not from here, I'm from Verdanturf. Anyway, that doesn't matter! We're all sick of the Red Dragon trampling over Hoenn!" The Plusle and the Poochyena nodded in agreement, while the Torchic lifted a foot and flexed her claws.
A deathly silence settled at the mention of the Red Dragon. Shock glanced around the ruins, as if expecting to see Scarlet Streak's cruel visage emerging from the rubble. Sparktail shifted uncomfortably. He didn't know what he was expecting to see at Slateport, but certainly not getting shouted down by some hot-blooded youth.
"Cynthia's Garchomp," whispered Thalia to Sparktail. "She's the one who brought the war to Hoenn. And she was the one behind the meteor storms, right? Does that mean she controls the region now?" Nodding, Sparktail briefly recalled a few blurry photos from Slick's computer during the.
"Anyway, if you're here to 'rescue' us, then we're not interested," continued Amber, glaring at Shock again. "You're a fool AND a coward if you think we're leaving Hoenn in the Red Dragon's clutches, got it?"
"Yeah!" chimed in the Torchic, hopping up onto a stack of books. "Literally no one asked for you to come."
"Shh, Magik!" Embarassed, Amber quickly covered the Torchic's beak.
"Anyway, you heard what the girls said," growled a Mightyena with recent scars on his left flank, stepping out from the crowd to join Amber. "Please. Get back on your Skarmories, and return to Kanto without us. We'd rather die than abandon Hoenn to that monster."
Thalia hissed, and Sparktail's eyes widened. They'd just arrived here! They couldn't be leaving already. It felt wrong to just abandon Hoenn, when Slick had done so much to protect the region. And yet the fact remained, Shock had orders to follow. But nonetheless, discontent mutterings rose from the others around Sparktail and Thalia.
Taking a step back, Shock stared at the wild Pokemon, opening and closing his mouth; then, he glanced around what was left of his patrol. There was a strange look in his eyes as he stared at Amber, something familiar, like an old memory... once forgotten, but now regained.
Breathing hard, he glanced up to the Skarmories, then back to Amber and the rest. "No, I'll back you up with what I have," said the Manectric, leaning in towards the Mightyena, his voice low. "This wasn't meant to be a rescue operation, after all. Delia, signal the Skarmories, send them back without us--"
Retrievers and survivors alike stared at the Manectric, and Sparktail's tail lashed at the ground. "Shock, we can't stay here," protested Delia, staring at Shock. "We're sitting ducks here. We need to get back to Indigo for more reinforcements--"
"That's enough," said Shock, turning to face the sea. He hung his head. "I was a fool for coming back. But we're here now, and we're not going to turn back. Everyone, be ready to move in five!"