Legend of the Exile, Chapter 41: Blue Blade, Red Stain
A hero from a time long gone
In seven wars he fought and won
This planet he must still defend
For the legend can never end
At high noon, as Shock's patrol ascended a hill overlooking Lilycove, Sparktail gazed down towards the old seaport city and the ocean's sparkling waves in the distance. Resting a paw on Thalia's back, the Raichu felt the wind cool his fur as the patrol padded down the grassy ridge, his thunderbolt cheeks alive with green sparks.
In the great bay to the south stood Mount Pyre, which looked almost beautiful in the sunlight. He and Thalia exchanged grim smiles as they passed the old mountain-isle, the smiles of shared pain, memories best left unspoken. Every step brought the patrol closer to the distant edge of the sea, their paws splashing through puddles that splattered Sparktail's unkempt fur, but that was all right.
One by one, the patrol emerged from the grasses to find themselves on a light brick-paved road winding through the trees, the occupied city of Lilycove sprawled out on the grassy terrain before them. Wisps of ocean breeze lifted Sparktail's fur and filled his throat as the patrol gazed in awe towards the distant blur where sea and sky converged. Sea-faded houses and crest-white pavement blended with the lush landscape that sloped down towards wave-worn rocky shores, melding seamlessly amongst grassy hills until Sparktail had to squint to see them.
The only thing out of place was a patrol bearing the Red Dragon's insignia, gathered in the city's main square- led by a Lucario with a crimson sash. At once, Sparktail and the other Retrievers readied weapons and claws and teeth; then, at the Manectric's cry, the patrol sprinted down the slope into the salt-white streets. As they approached, the Lucario spun around to reveal dangerous red eyes, and a slender blade was in his paws. Letting out war chants at their leader's cry, the Exile's soldiers rose to meet Sparktail and the others with serrated claws and fangs.
Dashing across the pavement, the Raichu slashed at a Kricketune, spun around to hurl a thunderbolt at a lunging Croagunk, then quickly dropped and rolled aside as a Rhyperior's foot smashed the pavement where he'd stood moments ago. Red and blue hilts flashed as Thalia struck a Tauros in frantic dance of paw-bound rapiers and forest song, letting loose a spirited "LEA!" as she sliced with both blades across a Quagsire's back.
Springing over a Cloyster's ice beam, Sparktail hit the ground and rolled back onto one knee, hacking a Wormadam to bits as its energy ball struck his left shoulder. The clouds overhead seemed to swirl and blur around Thalia as she struck and again with her blades, darting in and out of her foes' reach, eyes shutting when steel met flesh. Yelping as icy claws dug into his shoulder, Sparktail spun around with a shout and struck the Weavile behind him with an electric burst. Aqua-jetting up into a Staravia, Wyrn sank his rapier into the bird's breast and whipped it back out, a razor wire gleaming red.
At that moment, Sparktail found himself facing a Monferno clutching a hatchet- the first time he'd seen regular infantry carrying weapons! Swallowing, the Raichu quickly raised his sword to deflect his foe's crashing blow before slashing wide, hissing as flames licked at his fur. Sparktail hacked at the Monferno's flesh again and again between his foe's strikes, blade clanging against blade. Finally, the screeching monkey tripped over the Raichu's long tail and fell, just long enough for Sparktail to impale his foe.
But while some of the enemy soldiers carried weapons, it was clear that few had any skill with them. Only the Lucario had the vicious skill to slay, whose blade ripped life from an Azumarill's chest. The Retrievers had few casualties- yet the few whom fell beneath the Lucario's katana sent hatred into Sparktail, hatred he didn't understand but had no time to examine.
It occurred then to Sparktail that he'd never seen his sword stained red like the Lucario's katana. He slashed at an Ambipom- but the fluid coating his blade was so looked so watery that the Raichu couldn't recognize it as blood. He touched his paw to the blade's flat; and turning over his paw, saw that his pads were stained dark red. But before he could grasp the bizarre phenomenon, the Raichu heard the screech of a Carnivine and spun around with a forceful strike, cleaving it in two
For once, sheer force was on the Retrievers' side. The Lucario and his minions were regrouping now, slashing frenzily as Shock's patrol forced them from the bowl-like town square with sheer number, retreating up a flight of stairs to higher ground. At the top of the steps, the Lucario roared down at Shock's patrol; at once, Exeggutors appeared on the ridge and bombarded the patrol with egg bombs, faltering their advance. Howls and furious shouts rang out all around Sparktail as he and Thalia automatically hit the ground, their fur sprayed with shrapnel.
But Shock rushed forth up the stairs at the Exile's soldiers with a rallying bark, and his rattled patrol followed after. To Fabian, the Manectric barked as he ran, "Burn the trees!" As if it was his own idea, the Growlithe obediently stopped by the stairway handrails and shot a stream of flame up at the Exeggutors up on the ridge- hitting only three of the nine, but setting ablaze to their palm fronds and scattering the rest.
"Sparktail! Look out!" yelled Thalia as she sprang past with a spiral slash-parry to deflect a Skunktank's dark-pulse. Sparktail whipped around to face a Gallade towering over him, his sword glancing off its arms like steel. Swearing, the Raichu leapt aside to just barely evade a wicked psycho-cut, no time left to wonder what would happen if it hit him. He hurled his weight into each slash, furiously trying to force the green knight back; it was not easy, but the Gallade seemed more determined to wound Sparktail than to hold his ground.
The Lucario stood hatefully above a glaring Amber, his katana raised high for the kill, when Shock barreled straight into him from the side. Snarling, the Lucario and the Manectric tumbled head over tail, the katana flung from the Lucario's paw as they battered at each other furiously. Bellowing, the Lucario rolled back up onto one knee, finally swatting Shock aside with a swift mach-punch. Snatching up his katana, he barked for the remaining guards to rejoin him, and they fought with bloody desire, willingly backing down the grassy road from the patrol's hacks and blows to the edge of the sea.
Then, as the red-sashed Lucario's foot reached the very edge of the rocky precipice- not too high, perhaps a drop of eighteen feet at most- a chorus of skies rang out across the air. Startled, both patrol and guards all glanced up to the sky as three specks swooped down from the clouds out over the sea with slender wings- three Skarmories rushing upon the Exile's minions.
Fury burned in the Lucario's eyes as he glanced between Shock's triumphant gaze in front and the approaching Skarmories in back. "If you think we're cornered- think again," laughed the Lucario, his eyes gleaming as he stretched out one paw towards the sea, sheathing his blade. "Blusabre has never been defeated- and that will not change today!"
Immediately, Shock gave a rallying bark, and the Retrievers surged forward- but too late. The Lucario and his underlings spun around and dove off the cliff, the Skarmories letting out warning cries. Alarmed, Sparktail and the others rushed past Shock to the edge, staring far down as Blusabre and the others splashed in the churning ocean below.
"They'll drown," gasped Thalia with widened eyes as she and a few others peered over Sparktail's shoulder, gasping Retrievers crowding all along the cliff's edge. The Raichu felt her grip his paw tight. "There's no way that they'll survive the fall-"
"No, they won't," countered Wyrn, pointing with his rapier. "Look!"
Heart pounding, Sparktail followed Wyrn's gaze down towards several trails of ripples in the foamy sea as the soldiers vanished into the pounding brine. Then, a pair of hideous brown-and-pink heads suddenly reared up out the water's surface; two Gastrodons emerged from beneath the sea in geysers of foam- lifting Blusabre and the others onto their backs, before fleeing off into the rock-strewn horizon.
"Wyrn, take any four and go search the city for holdouts," ordered Shock, glancing to the Buizel as the patrol returned to the town square. Nodding, Wyrn gestured to Ketrail, Amber, a Phanpy, and a Zangoose, then led the group away. Pausing by a steel rail, Thalia watched in amusement as Shock then turned his attention to the three Skarmories landing nearby. "Now, what's going on here?" said the Manectric, eyes darting between the steel birds, one paw burrowing into the dirt. "Is this an airlift?"
"Ah, you must be Captain Shock," said the Skarmory, meeting the hound's gaze. "Lyther did say you had quite the bark. As for airlifts-" The Skarmory glanced back to his comrades and sighed. "I had a fleet of thirty-six under my command when I set out from Sootopolis, but a rainstorm scattered us." Thalia glanced back to Sparktail, remembering Ferricia's story of the Silver Conclave, but he didn't look back. "It should be no trouble, though; my flock and I have traveled through worst tempests!"
"We'll have to find another way, then," said Shock, turning back to the rest of the patrol. "Now as for the rest of you..." The Manectric's voice trailed off as he scanned his followers, then struck like a hammer. "Speedster! You don't seem to have a single wound or drop of blood on you. Were you even in the battle?!"
An amused murmur rolled through the patrol as all eyes turned towards the young Eevee warrior, who glanced at his own fur and blushed a deep red. Blinking, Thalia glanced around the patrol, realizing Shock was right. They'd all taken a hit or two in the battle, however minor- except for Speedster, whose fur was somehow completely clean of blood. "He was definitely fighting, sir!" called Sheltur to Shock, grinning as Sparktail and Thalia exchanged glances. "I saw him take down a Cherrim. He must've just been too fast!" Thalia giggled at that, Sparktail rolled his eyes good-naturedly, and a few others laughed.
Shock snorted. "Right then- Delia, Bricks, and Sheltur, come with me," ordered the Manectric, glancing to each of them with sharp blue eyes. "Let's go retrieve our fallen comrades' bodies and pay our final respects to them, before someone trips over them." Nodding, Delia, Sheltur, and a Graveler rose up and followed after their leader.
As the patrol settled down, Thalia gave Sparktail a playful wink- because she liked how the Raichu's cheeks darkened slightly- then let out a content sigh and took in her surroundings. It cheered the Leafeon to see how the world could still look so whole and beautiful, the sky a lovely light-blue with streaks of white, the grass and the swaying trees still verdant-green. The houses looked peacefully unused, but not wholly neglected, not even the distant light-tower gleaming on the farthest rock outcropping. Maybe the Lucario and his soldiers had preserved the buildings for their own use? The ground was rich with flowers that had escaped from untended gardens, though quite a few blossoms had been trampled during the battle. The only hint that the beautiful city gave to betray the existence of war were blood and masses of strewn fur on the pavement, which would wash away in the next rains.
The Leafeon was helping- well, trying and failing to help- Kyria bandage the Retrievers' wounds when a loud explosion suddenly rang out from the harbor. At once, the confused patrol turned towards the plume of black smoke rising from the wharf in the south. "Damn that Blusabre!" swore Shock as he and the rest of the burial crew returned to the square. "He must've left time-release charges on the docks!"
Exchanging glances with Sparktail, Thalia and several others raced after the Manectric down towards a high ledge overlooking the wharf, just in time to see four more docks and the tethered boats all explode in succession. Skidding to a halt on the quay, the Leafeon cringed as burning wooden shrapnel and eye-stinging smoke rained down upon her and the rest of the patrol, relaxing only when she felt Sparktail's protective paw on her flank.
Thalia could feel fury radiate from Shock as the Manectric stared at the broken piers. As they stood on the water's edge, gazing far out to sea, Shock spun around sharply to face the Skarmory captain. "Captain! How long will it take before your fleet arrives?" barked Shock, his pelt bristling.
The captain tilted his head sideways to frown at the Manectric. "Ah, I take it you really intended to sail all the way to Sootopolis?" commented the Skarmory, spreading his wings and exchanging glances with his allies. "It should not take more than a few days. Be patient."
Shock groaned. Suppressing laughter beneath a paw, Thalia grinned at Sparktail. Then, she yawned and curled up on the quay as the rest of the patrol joined them, letting soft clear sunlight and Sparktail's warmth fill her fur as ocean waves filled the air with fresh saline spray.
"You could always rebuild the dock." Blinking, the Leafeon bolted upright and glanced around as she heard a deep voice from the waters below. Next to her, Sparktail drew his sword, and they hurried to the ledge.
A craggy brown fish surfaced between the broken docks, its rough, tan scales like a living rock. "Relicanth?" whispered Sparktail, lowering his sword. Many Pokemon had assisted Sparktail and Thalia, back when they gathered the Orbs from Hoenn. And Relicanth had provided the Blue Orb's location.
"Hello, Venvel and Sektek," greeted Relicanth as they stared at him blankly. "Such tremors rock these waters now, as they have not for ages. Indeed, the stasis is coming to a close, and the cycle of eons will resume..."
"A Relicanth!" gasped Amber as she joined Thalia and Sparktail by the edge, her eyes filled with fierce awe as they stared down at the rockfish. At once, the rest of the patrol- from Shock to Speedster- perked up and crowded all along the boardwalk. "I've never seen one before..."
"Always running, never walking; forever scurrying, never pausing," spoke the Relicanth, his voice stately calm as the Retrievers peered down at him. "Lightning runs in your flesh, mouse; but your soul is fire. Even now, a new candle glows with your flame." Eyes widening, Amber began fo back away.
A chill ran down Thalia's spine as Kyria passed her, foortsteps echoing off the pavement. "Greetings, ancient elder," said the Gardevoir calmly. "Celebi blessed my eyes so that I might see into the hearts of Pokemon. But what grants your eyes such sight?"
"Ten thousand years of life have granted me these eyes, dear healer," reploed the Relicanth with just a faint hint of a smile. "You have too much faith in the forces of light for one of your kind; your cousins learn by trial and error. I need no inner eye to see a person truly; I need no divine power to recognize the world's cycle." A murmur ran through the patrol. Reluctantly, the Gardevoir nodded.
"And what about my patrol, Relicanth?" called out Shock, affixing his blue gaze to the rockfish, who seemingly held no fear of the Manectric's crackling fur, listening to the wash of debris-strewn waters. "The Army pf the Retrievers waits for us at Sootopolis. Will you help us get there?"
The Relicanth peered up at the Manectric, its stony expression neither condemning nor gracious. "Your eyes shine like brass, your paws firm as steel," said the ancient rockfish, gently bobbing up and down in the sea, its voice slow still but deliberate. "You need no assistance from me. Your own will shall lead you to the Ivory Mountain."
Then Sparktail spoke, startling Thalia- she hadn't expected him to say anything. "Wait," said the Raichu, staring down at the rockfish. "Relicanth-- what can you tell me about the warrior Omega?" Thalia's inner laughter melted away as she glanced at Sparktail; she could see some sort of bitterness in him, something that the others couldn't see. The Leafeon nudged him for an explanation, but to her irritation, he did not react.
The Relicanth's reply only disappointed him. "Kusaan? You ask of the Omega, that you might understand him; and yet you do not understand yourself," said the rockfish harshly. "Surely you, who traveled through storms and darkness to survive, can comprehend the Exile's fist? Know this, Raichu: The answer to the end lies just beyond the final veil."
Then, the Relicanth bowed farewell to Shock, turned, and dove off, leaving the patrol staring at the bubbling ripples in the water.
Speechless, Sparktail stared down at the broken docks towards Relicanth's vanishing shadow as the rest of the patrol broke into excited chatter, slowly sheathing his sword. He felt Thalia giving him a few warm nudges, to assure him that he'd be all right. Gulping, he closed his eyes and held her close.
"Shock, sir," spoke up Speedster, glancing nervously between the Skarmories and his commander, then to Thalia and Sparktail. Looking to the Eevee, the Raichu suddenly noticed an odd gleam to Speedster's eyes- but he pushed the thought away, not sure what to make of it. "Permission to check out Mount Pyre?"
"Permission granted," said the Manectric distantly, still staring at the place where Relicanth had vanished. "But take others with you. We can't have anyone wandering off on their own."
Nodding obediently, the Eevee gestured with his tail to Thalia and Sparktail. "I'll take you two, okay?" said Speedster, wagging his tail, leading them over to one of the Skarmories. Glancing back to the patrol, Sparktail climbed up onto the Skarmory behind Thalia, gripped the steel bird's back with his paws as they rose up and flew off.
They flew west over the Cove of Lily, passing over rocks and trees and innocent Taillows ignorant of war. Up at the front, Speedster was riding on the Skarmory's head, whispering directions into the steed's ear. A chill ran down Sparktail's spine.
They were descending on Mount Pyre now, craggy spires like petrified smoke, rising up toward the shrine at the top. Tombstones lined its slopes in red and blue, and soft mists wreathed the ancient mountain in swirling white. As they descended toward the velvet-green summit, Sparktail anxiously glanced back at Thalia, but she looked as confused as he felt.
They slid down into the grass, landing side by side. Speedster's landing was less graceful, leaping down from the Skarmory and landing with a tumble. Yet, there was an odd, almost fervent gleam in his eye. "Well?" said the Eevee, smiling at Sparktail and Thalia. "You have the Orbs, don't you? Let's return them to their rightful place."
Exchanging anxious glances, Sparktail and Thalia followed Speedster up the weathered steps, up the velvet-grace, toward the shrine where life met death. "I haven't been here for ages," murmured Speedster, setting the Raichu's fur on end. "Not since- yes, that was eons ago..."
The Eevee's voice sounded off to Sparktail, heavy and weight-laden like the Relicanth's. Too weary, too warn. "You've been here before?" asked Thalia innocently as they continued up through the spirit-mist. Sparktail smiled weakly. For a moment, she sounded like her usual bright, cheerful self.
The mists thinned out near the summit. Sparktail could make out Speedster's sly smile. "Yes, Thalia," said the Eevee, still sounding far too old. "I know this mountain, this shrine to the departed, this hallowed rock where earth and sea meet sundered sky." Thalia's eyes narrowed, but she bit back her reply.
The sky was clear with daylight over Hoenn as the Raichu and the Leafeon reached the ancient altar atop Mount Pyre, older than time itself. Turning, Sparktail stared out across the misty green slopes, curving down into the glittering sea.
Here, at this lonely shrine in the Cove of Lily, Aurton Silversky had breathed his last. Thalia shook as she saw the dirt mount where she'd buried their trainer. Her stomach churned. Slick's grave was lush and beautiful. But that body was no longer Slick. Now, Slick had become the face of Giratina.
Reaching into their packs, Thalia and Sparktail took out the Red and Blue Orbs. Scarlet strength, azure adrenaline. The ancient orbs pulsed with mysterious light as they placed them on the altar, slower and faster at first, then gradually synchronizing. In that moment, they could sense the power of the land and the sea, the power that filled the planet. A power that, left unchecked, could easily tear the world apart.
Speedster began to murmur under his breath, catching Sparktail's attention. "Yes--it was here that it happened, when the War of Legends broke out, twocmillennia ago," whispered the Eevee, tracing a mark in the dirt with a paw, his back still to Thalia and Sparktail as if they weren't there. "And then over here, this was where the War of Nine began, fourteen centuries ago. Or was it fifteen? Ah, how memories blur ll with time..."
Sparktail's eyes narrowed, his fur rippling in the wave-spurred breeze. " You, you're talking like you were there when... as if you saw the war yourself" said the Raichu, his throat growing dry. He frowned. "Hang on... how do you know so much about the ancient world, anyway?"
"I know of these things because I have seen them; I have seen more than either of you may ever see in your lifetimes," said Speedster calmly, raising his eyes towards the shining sky. " If you knew as I knew, saw as I saw, lived as I lived... then you would understand." Smiling, the Eevee took a deep breath, his fur rippling like grass in the wind.
The world went silent and still, except for the chill in Sparktail's fur. The Eevee's claim was ludicrous and outrageous beyond words. Was he insulting their intelligence? "What're you talking about?" said the Raichu, incredulous. "You... you can't have seen that much. You're just, just a young Eevee...you haven't even evolved yet."
"At Mount Chimney, the intense heat didn't bother you at all, and you didn't even want armor," added Thalia, her eyes narrowing. "You don't have any weapons, you're still an Eevee... and you didn't even have a scratch on you!" Speedster flinched. "What sort of secrets are you hiding, Speedster? And why'd you bring us here?"
"My name is not Speedster, and I am not an Eevee." He spun around to face them, revealing his true features, sending Sparktail's and Thalia's every sense into deadlock. His body was sleek and vulpine, his paws a rich, dark brown. His muscles were tauter than any Eevee; his muzzle was inclined like a Vaporeon, his black-tipped ears shaped like a Vaporeon, and his magnificent tail was like a Flareon.
Tribal markings decorated his cheeks and forehead like a Glaceon's diamonds, but his neck fur and belly were the creamy color of a Leafeon's back. Sparktail and Thalia stared blankly at the Pokemon who could not be an Eevee, who could be nothing but an Eevee, who was stronger and greater than any Eevee. "Sparktail, Thalia, I am Mythic, last of the Tanuki."