Legend of the Exile, Chapter 42: The Lost Hero
He watched the world eyes like the sun
His fur left plain with swift paws to run
Five stones he held from memories inlaid
To sing of new life from the forest glade
In a flash, Sparktail and Thalia had their blades at the Tanuki's throat, their fur bristling as they stared at the creature who couldn't exist, who shouldn't exist--yet was standing before them. "The Tanuki race died out thousands of years ago," hissed Thalia through clenched teeth.
Mythic smiled, clearly unperturbed. "You say I can't exist, and yet here I am," replied the Tanuki, his eyes gleaming. "Surely you understand that I have powers beyond any mere Eevee? That I am wiser and stronger than any mortal? That you have never seen the likes of me before, and never shall in any other?"
In the shadows of the ruins, Sparktail glared at Speedster--no, at Mythic. It was true, Mythic looked older and stronger than any Eevee; and his voice was ancient like the Relicanth's. But still... "How?" asked the Raichu finally. "How're you still alive?"
"I have survived the eons by living in peace, Sparktail," said Mythic, gently brushing his long tail against the altar. "I am not and never have been a warrior, not even when my kin still walked the earth." He gave a dark, secretive smile. "Just as the Four Virtues themselves do not fight, neither do I."
"Why'd you sign up with Shock, then?" demanded Thalia, swords trembling in her vine-wrapped paws, her heart racing. Oh yes, some part of her did want to believe that a higher power was watching over her, but no, not like this. "If you don't like fighting, what're you doing in a war patrol?"
"I do not dislike fighting," replied the Tanuki, turning back to the altar. "Still, I am not a warrior, for your combat skills far outstrip mine." Thalia's eyes widened. As an Eevee, Mythic's body had looked immaculate, unscathed. But now, she could see every scratch, every cut on his body. All the wounds he'd concealed to hide his true nature.
Blade still raised, Sparktail glanced at Thalia awkwardly. Even with proof of Mythic's power, his claims were too sudden to accept. But some guilty part of Sparktail couldn't help but wonder if Mythic was telling the truth. Even so, he shouldn't just take anyone's words at face value.
Mythic sighed. "It's clear you haven't seen the truth yet, either of you," he said, shaking his head. "It doesn't matter what you think I am. It doesn't matter if you think I'm beyond rationality. All that matters now is that you recognize the will of the wild."
Lugia. It was like listening to Lugia again. Staring into those cold, accusing eyes, shining with righteous fury. Instinctively, his paw shifted, the tip of his sword touching the Tanuki's neck. Immediately, Mythic sprang aside, sliding around them, darting under Thalia's swishing blades and under the altar. Both Raichu and Leafeon halted.
"I am not a warrior," repeated the Tanuki as he stepped back out onto the grass, looking calmly at the duo as if they had not just been trying to kill him. "Will you listen to me? I can do no harm to either of you. We haven't much time before Shock sends others to look for us."
Staring at the Tanuki, Thalia slowly sheathed her blades. Sparktail could feel the Leafeon's heartbeat, hot and quick, her paws tugging at his arm until he, too, put away his sword. "Fine," muttered the Raichu. "But one false step toward Thalia--"
Mythic laughed softly. "I'm no threat to her, nor to you," said the Tanuki. "No, I'd say you're more of a threat to me." His eyes fell on Sparktail's sword, the hilt visible just above his shoulder. "Especially one who carries the weapon of a champion. Tell me, just how did you acquire such a thing?"
"The weapons of light? They-" began Thalia. To her surprise, Sparktail shook his head, and she stepped back, letting him speak. "Lugia gave it to me," said the Raichu, his tail lashing at the grass. "He gave us all weapons. Like Thalia's swords or Insyte's claws."
"A replica of Aluxiver's sword," said Mythic, nodding. Sparktail blinked, and Thalia frowned. "And it seems you all found hope in carrying these weapons of light, these symbols of champions. And yet, by recreating Aluxiver, one cannot help but recreate his flaws."
Thalia gave Sparktail a questioning glance, but the Raichu looked away. What sort of light would I be if I gave you the power to kill as you pleased?
"Did you know that Giratina was Slick?" he asked, looking back to the Tanuki. "Or... or that he was a human at all?"
"Could anyone truly know such a thing?" countered Mythic. Sparktail and Thalia exchanged glances, but said nothing. "I am not one with such a story, but one who sees the stories of others. Such feelings of betrayal, of disillusionment. And yet--you stay in this war?"
The Raichu glanced to Thalia, hoping she would speak for him, but she shook her head and motioned back to him with her tail. "I... I had to get away," he said finally. "I thought I found something. But I didn't. Like I'd forgotten something..."
Words bled from his mouth, forcibly extracted. Slick's death. Turnback Cave. The Wide Shot. Jirachi. Hoenn. The Conclave. Desperate battles, horrifying duels. A long, meaningless trek into the wilderness.
As he struggled through his story, Thalia stared at him in disbelief, as if amazed he could say so much. As Sparktail paused for breath, the Leafeon looked at the Tanuki, hard. "I think he's told you enough," said the Leafeon sharply. "Now, it's your turn."
"Very well," agreed Mythic. His eyes remained calm and gentle. "Then, you came to Hoenn, not because of any great love for this place, but to escape." Sparktail stiffened, but the Tanuki smiled. "You are either very wise or very foolish."
The Raichu didn't know what to say, and so he remained silent. "Why did you bring us here?" asked Thalia finally. "You've been implying a lot of stuff about Lugia and the others-- the eight Columns. You're not like them, are you? Is that how you're still alive?"
"No, I am not like them, though that question is not as odd as you may think," said Mythic, leaping up onto the altar. "You hold the Columns in high regard. But they are not immortal as I am, nor are they without equal. Ho-Oh and Lugia were not made, but chosen by the spirits. And when a Column dies, the spirits shall choose a new soul to replace them."
"What're you trying to say?" protested the Leafeon. "The Columns... can't just be destroyed like that, can they? There can't be that many Pokemon who can stand up to them... not unless..." She closed her eyes. "But then... are you saying this world can exist without the Eight Columns...?"
"The world is far too vast to be contained in eight aspects," said Mythic. "After all, what is a Column? The Columns were eight gods established at the dawn of this world. But every land has its own gods, its own sacred places. Even Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza predate the order you call the Eight Columns... truly, they are more ancient than the world itself."
Sparktail and Thalia exchanged glances. "If Ho-Oh brings the sun's courage, then Lugia offers the moon's calm," murmured the Tanuki, gazing at the Red and Blue Orbs on the altar. "If Dialga and Palkia were created to preserve the structure of time and space... then, the primal chaos which birthed Kyogre and Groudon is diametrically opposed to that order."
Far beyond the rolling waves, they could make out the ruins of Hoenn's fallen cities. "Primal energy sleeps within Hoenn, a relic of its buried past," said Mythic gravely. "It is a power so ancient, so integrated into our world, that we can no longer sense it." Turning, he looked back at Sparktail. "And this brings us to Omega."
Both Thalia and Mythic both watched Sparktail curiously. Omega, the mysterious Raichu who claimed the Griseous Orb, who controlled the camps in Mauville and Verdanturf. The one who took his face... "Who is Omega?" asked the Raichu weakly, trying to keep his voice steady. "What is he after?"
"He was born in distant Unova, under the name Kusaan," said Mythic, looking out to sea. "But his past is unimportant for now. I believe Kusaan has found some way to tap into this ancient power, in Giratina's name. And if he could prove himself worthy of that power, in its purest form... why, he could unravel time and space itself..."
As if in response, the Red and Blue Orbs flashed brightly once more. "You have witnessed this power in the forms of Kyogre and Groudon; but even with them, this power is finite, limited," said the Tanuki gravely. "But here, where the will of the wild has run rampant, where time and space are weakest... He must not be allowed to prove his mastery. He must not be allowed to nourish the World Abyss..."
The World Abyss... the passage of the dead. The swirling Void beneath the Distiortion World. The scarred battlefield where the Exile had waited in his true form. Yes, Sparktail remembered the World Abyss, and wished he couldn't. "But the Abyss was destroyed," said the Raichu weakly. "We destroyed it. Right?"
Slowly, Mythic turned back to face the duo. "Destroyed? Hardly," said the Tanuki. "The Void is the passage of the dead, after all. It is tied into the fabric of existence by its very nonexistence. From life to death, and death to life, it maintains the cycle between the civil and wild energies. It was Giratina who twisted the void's purpose, and filled it with darkness to feed his war machine."
Sparktail took in the Tanuki's every word with wide eyes, but Thalia was skeptical. "The World Abyss was real; we saw it," said the Leafeon, frowning at Mythic. "But 'light' and 'darkness' are... I mean... they're not things you can touch.
This primal energy... this ancient power... they're not real."
"Aren't they?" countered Mythic. "There are many layers to reality, Thalia. Just as I was not who I seemed to be, your weapons are not what they seem to be, as the creatures of legend are not what they seem to be... reality is never what it seems to be."
"That's ridiculous," said the Leafeon disgustedly, drawing her swords. "This is real. The war's real. I've killed enough enemies to know that. And I'm sure Sparktail has, too. I mean-" She padded over to Mythic, holding Shensing before his eyes, but being careful not to touch his fur. "Look at it. Doesn't it look real?"
"Your swords feel sharp and true, but they are not swords," said Mythic calmly. "A true sword is more than steel and wood; it is a symbol, a tool, a weapon. A sword has two edges, but cannot swing in both directions; and whatever it meets, it separates, it divides. But do you truly understand what it means to carry a sword? To be a symbol of war and death?"
The Raichu stared at the Tanuki as Thalia backed up against him. Thoughts of killing Rattatas by night came to him, but he pushed those aside. Of course he had killed; it was war, life or death. But surely he wasn't a cruel killer, not like Giratina. Or was he?
"Come, now, let us not hide things from one another," said Mythic, shaking his head. "We all know you have killed and found it in your heart to kill; it is no great secret. Feel the grass under your paws, the sun on your back, the wind on your fur. Your heart needs no prompting of mine, not when it hungers to become what it ought to be."
The Raichu glared at Mythic, not sure how to reply. But in the back of his head, he remembered running through Pal Park, that savage joy of hunting down the Hexwraiths one-by-one, how satisfying it felt to destroy them. Thalia shivered as Mythic flickered her chin with his tail, and Sparktail grew irritated- he didn't want Thalia to be afraid of him.
"The blade and the warrior must be one in battle," said Mythic softly, circling them. "Savagery or civility? War or peace? What lies in your heart? Conflict stalks from every corner. What do you commit yourself to? If the soul is divided, so too is the blade. Only those whose souls are complete can stand when evening falls."
The Tanuki flicked the Leafeon's chin with his tail once again, but this time she snapped. "Don't bring me into this!" hissed Thalia, a leaf-blade protruding from a raised paw. "I don't order Sparktail to do anything for me, he does it because he wants to. Don't even start!"
But Mythic remained infuriatingly calm as ever. "I have no power over you; your choices are your own," laughed the Tanuki gently, shaking his head. "Remember this: If you submit yourselves to a higher power, you will become like them. Don't ever fight because someone tells you to. Fight because you want to fight..."
"Ah, yes, I expected nothing less from such an ancient infidel," whispered an old, haggard voice in the distance. At once, Mythic went rigid. "It has been eons since we last dueled, O ancient one; and yet you were alone last time! Have you lost your touch."
Drawing their swords, Sparktail and Thalia turned to see a blue fetal creature with a yellow turban, floating up the slope towards them with sealed eyes and wrinkled skin; the glowing red gems on its tails and forehead were reminiscent of Mesprit. "Who are you?" breathed Sparktail, leveling his sword at the Pokemon.
The creature gave a wheezing laugh. "Dear boy, I am Uxie, keeper of memories," rasped the old Pokemon, gathering energy into one paw. "I am the divine chalice from which the Exile sups his knowledge; I am the birth of all purity. Now stand aside; for the one behind you has earned the ire of the magi, and must be wiped from existence..."
Behind them, Mythic gazed up at the tiny Pokemon, his features hardening. His frustration at the Tanuki evaporating, Sparktail held his blade steady. He didn't know what history existed between the duo, but if Uxie served the Exile, who wanted Mythic gone, then it would be wrong to do nothing. "We're not standing aside!" cried Thalia from beside him.
A wizened chuckle came from the ancient creature. "Then you shall both share his fate." Sparktail grabbed Thalia and pulled her aside as Uxie flung a massive blue psi-bolt into the ground, leaving a tiny crater where the Leafeon had been moments ago. A memory flashed in his head--a Mudkip shielding a Vulpix with his body, a dying Linoone--but he quickly rushed at Uxie again.
Waves of light thrashed from the pixie as Mythic sprang forward, hurtling the Tanuki away. Darting low and high from the Raichu's slashes, Uxie's body flashed before psi-bolts rained down on the trio's head. Flinging a leaf blade at Uxie, Thalia rolled aside to dodge the sweeping Extrasensory attack that made the air ripple and stirred long-buried memories- Sparktail and the Houndoom tumbling down from the precipice, black smoke from a desiccated corpse- and she slashed wide.
Kicking out with a hind paw as Uxie flew past her, Thalia spun around with double slashes, and twin stabs, just barely missing the guardian. "I hold a thousand lives of thoughts and memories; I am the keeper of all knowledge," said Uxie, pulsating with psychic bursts as he rose into the air. "Even the two of you, who should have died millennia ago, are but children to me!"
An invisible barrier flashed around the altar as Uxie dove for the Red and Blue Orbs, repelling him. Furious, he opened fire on Thalia and Sparktail. Sparktail's blade vibrated as he deflected the psychic bursts, the steel humming discordantly. "Children they may be, but you are to me as they to you," declared Mythic. "Do not touch these Pokemon! They are under my protection, and I would stand between them and the Exile if necessary--"
The Tanuki broke off as Thalia sprang at Uxie with both blades, tackling the guardian-spirit to the ground. Startled, Sparktail sheathed his sword and padded over to stare down at the creature. "Ah, Tanuki," whispered Uxie as he struggled under Thalia's paws, blades at his neck. "Such brazen words from a mere stargazer. Ever as always, you defy the Original One, reject the world's potentia..."
Without warning, his body erupted with a massive blue psychic wave that violently flung Sparktail, Thalia, and Mythic to the ground. "Do not think I have trivialized your transgressions against my dear sister Mesprit," breathed the creature, its tails rippling as Sparktail stared up at him. "We do not forgive, and we do not forget!" Flashing, his body vanished.
"Sparktail? You okay?" asked Thalia weakly, getting to her paws. When the Raichu nodded, they both looked to Mythic, who was staring after Uxie's vanishing silhouette in the distance, his expression dark and stern. "Mythic? We're sorry for doubting you, earlier... What's wrong?"
Exhausted, the Tanuki shook his head. "If even the Three Magi have emerged, then our time grows short," he murmured, staring into the distance. "Surely, they would not venture so deep into hostile territory, not unless... Yes, something dark is brewing at Lilycove. I shall stay here for now, and protect the Orbs. Go, return to the Skarmory, and save Shock!"
Paws and tail beating against the grass, Sparktail scampered to a halt at the edge of the gritty beach as he caught sight of Shock's patrol battling against a horde of Mismagii, all armed with weapons gathered from the last battle. His heart sank; there were already many bodies up and down the shoreline. Further down the shore were five Gastrodons, carrying armed soldiers that bore the Exile's banner.
The Omega Warrior slid down from a Gastrodon's back, followed by fresh reinforcements. "Still here, are you?" crowed Kusaan. A dangerous smile spread across the Raichu's features as he drew his blade, water dripping down his fur into the sand, Slick's charm gleaming on his neck. "Come here; I have a message from Blusabre. Fall, Retrievers!"
A chill ran down Sparktail's spine as he saw the Omega Warrior. Something about their eyes promised murder that Blusabre's guards failed to deliver. At once, the Retrievers rushed at their enemies with battle cries. "Thalia, get back to the others," he hissed , glancing to his mate. "Just... just wait here! Please!" Without waiting for her protests, he raced off down the sand towards his enemy.
Sparktail's cheeks crackled as he rushed at Omega, knocking him away from Shock. The Raichu's blade clanged against Kusaan's, tail spinning around for another ring, a vertical slash parried high, paws hastily sidestepping a thrust, a deft series of swipes and parries going back and forth.
Retrievers and Exile soldiers battled furiously all around the duo as they fought, their swords crackling with sparks, flashing again and again with each clash. With every strike of steel against steel, the Raichu could feel his blade vibrate and tremble.
Dark droplets flew from every direction and coated both their swishing pelts. Axes flashed and hacked into flesh, turning fur scarlet as pikes thrust forth from either side and daggers plunged into chests, splattering crimson stains across the sand, paws and tails moving too fast for Sparktail's eyes to track as the other warrior struck from every side.
The constant lashing blows from all directions kept jostling Sparktail's thoughts and forced him into constant retaliation, furiously parrying and slashing for his life, his sword trembling with its discordant hum. The other blade struck closer and closer to his fur as they fought, finally scoring a painful gash on his flank that brought an angry scream and a crackling lunge from the Raichu, his tail lashing at the earth as soldiers fell all around him.
The previous battle was swift, decisive, and easily won- but this was a vicious, terrifying conflict that dragged as the cold gray skies darkened, agonized screams mingled with vicious howls on both sides. The sand underpaw grew damp and red with spilled blood, soldiers howling and falling all around him, sinking to painful slow deaths. The cold evening air nipped at Sparktail as he and Omega continued their bitter duel, the sky turning to dusk as gasping Retrievers and vicious Exile soldiers battered at each other relentlessly.
Omega kicked high at the Raichu's paws before leaping back with a bark- stumbling back over a fallen Linoone's tail, falling even as Sparktail's sword flew from his grip. Gritting his teeth, Sparktail instantly snatched up his sword with his tail and slashed wide at Omega's chest, the blade slicing at the other Raichu's ribcage- and came away bloody.
Omega howled and clasped a paw to his chest wound. "You'll pay for that!" hissed Kusaan as he stumbled back, his body beginning to melt. Quickly, Sparktail moved in for the kill- but too slow, too slow. As the golden fur began to dissolve, eyes becoming utter white, Omega suddenly grabbed the Raichu's sword with shadow-like claws, the Griseous Orb flashing.
The Raichu froze as the translucent claws seized the blade. Time seemed to slow as evil energy twisted around the blade, the steel shaking in his paws violently. Panicking, he struggled to pull his sword free, but could not break Omega's grasp as golden cracks ran up and down the length of the blade.
Immediately, Omega's grasp vanished. A wave of energy struck Sparktail, sending him reeling back, the blade's glowing fragments falling to the ground all around him. Unseen in the sand and dust that filled the air, Kusaan snatched up his blade and ran away, screaming a retreat to his allies as he fled into the ocean like a pillar of dark mist.
Horrified, the Raichu stared at the glittering pieces of his sword in dismay, the useless golden hilt falling from his shaking paw as the Exile's soldiers raced into the waters after their master. On the blade fragments and soaking into the sand lay drops of blood, his and Omega's both. This couldn't be happening... his sword had broken!
"Stop, Sparktail!" ordered Shock from behind Sparktail as a dark-stained Wyrn stumbled to the ocean, limping and clutching one hind paw. The Raichu froze again- he could hear the misery in the Manectric's voice. "We're hurt enough-- get back here--"
Foreboding gripped Sparktail as he turned to stare at the Retrievers on the blood-soaked shore, the Exile's soldiers fleeing on their Gastrodons towards the fading horizon. They were all splattered with blood and bruises, Shock's patrol; pride turned to panic and resolve turned to terror- the wind cold and gray against Sparktail's pelt. The sand was dark and wet with the crimson stain, filling the Raichu's nostrils and mouth with the cruel scent of death- leaking into the waters as the sun sank beneath the horizon.
With wounded cries, the Retrievers stared numbly at each other and at the countless bodies littering the beach all around them, one-by-one crawling towards their fallen comrades with silent sobs as the rest of the patrol- raced down the stairs to join them.
"Sheltur!" cried Wyrn as he knelt beside the fallen Wartortle, the rapier falling from his paw, his eyes filled with dismay. Shocked, Sparktail stared as the Buizel clutched his friend's limp body, revealing the horrible gash on the turtle's underbelly. "No- no- stay with us- don't be dead- no! No! No!"
As Sparktail approached, the Buizel clenched his teeth and looked up at him with furious, angry eyes. Stopping dead, Sparktail felt as if he was back at that awful morning on the Silver Conclave, staring down at a dying Elias, too late to save his friend; war cycling itself without recourse, taking life after life--and he grew afraid that Mythic and Lugia might be right about him after all.