Legend of the Exile, Chapter 43: Across the Sea
From this earth where I once began
Through ocean storms I march again
The wind's cloak is all around me
For the distant flame is my guide
"I don't like this," said Thalia anxiously, their Skarmories' wings flashing in the morning sun as she glanced to Sparktail. Ocean wave and foam streaked by far below as the surviving members of Shock's patrol rode on the Skarmories' backs. "If Omega could just break your sword so easily--" Just like how mine broke, she meant to say, but bit back the rest of her sentence.
The salty wind blew into his eyes and swept through his fur, the whtie mountain looming up from the open sea. "I... I don't know anymore," saild Sparktail faintly, taking no notice of the cawing Wingulls and chirping Taillows overhead. "It's... it's just a sword... right?" The Leafeon looked at him worriedly, but said nothing more.
The wind was strong and the waves below rose high, but the sky was clear, and they arrived at Sootopolis without incident. Sparktail stared down towards the ancient dome far below as they swooped down into the mouth of the ancient caldera. The oceans and the mountain's face were by no means pristine- but it was cleaner and brighter than the destroyed husk he remembered.
Patrols of circling Skarmories brought the enormous cavern to life with their sharp eyes, sweeping over the city below. Directly below the patrol glimmered the waves of Lake Helena, its blue depths betraying no sign of the debris and red stains that had tainted it during the Sootopolis Massacre, surrounded by half-repaired buildings.
No, it wasn't as neat as it had been under the humans' control, and perhaps it never would be- but the city was clean enough that Pokemon knelt to drink from the lake's edge; and now the mineral deposits could outshine the contamination of war, restoring Lake Helena. But still, Sparktail kept perfectly still, paw at the place where his sword should be, his eyes dull.
On the rocky-yet-gentle shores surrounding Lake Helena, the wreckage and bodies that had lined the slopes were gone, replaced by newly painted walls and freshly cut timbers. Teams of Pokemon dotted the city's trails, tearing down old houses and raising new dwellings in their place, constructing bridges where old ledges had crumbled, washing long-dried stains of ash and blood from the great cavern's walls.
"Sparktail! Are you seeing this?" called Thalia, glancing to Sparktail as the patrol descended. "Remember when we first saw the city right after Slick's death... and how dead and lifeless it was?" The Leafeon laughed softly. "Here's life and color where there was none before!" And up and down the patrol's ranks, the others too were sharing similar thoughts in hushed, excited tones as they took in the rejuvenated city.
The Raichu blinked-- he knew he should feel some swell of emotion, relief or satisfaction or something-- but he didn't feel it, or couldn't name what he felt. All that Sparktail could bring himself to do was force a smile, and say nothing more.
The twenty descended upon a large helicopter pad on a rocky plateau overlooking Lake Helena. Glancing back over his shoulder to Thalia, Sparktail slipped down from his Skarmory's back to the asphalt while the rest of the patrol did likewise. Thalia hopped down from her steed as well and landed beside him, her eyes bright as she stared all around the massive cavern, off into the distance towards the farthest wall, up to the crater three thousand feet above them.
"Captain Shock!" called Lyther. Exchanging glances, Sparktail and Thalia noticed the Lucario padding across the helicopter over to Shock's patrol with lance in paw, his eyes hard and his blue cape draped over his shoulders. The other Retrievers exchanged glances as Shock looked sharply to the approaching warrior; Wyrn looked puffy-eyed and red from sobbing on all through the night. "It's good that you and your patrol arrived safely, Captain. We need all the preparation we can get before attacking Ever Grande."
But Shock refused to meet Lyther's gaze. "Not all of us made it here, sir," replied the Manectric, his voice a low growl; Lyther flinched but said nothing. Sparktail shot Thalia an uncomfortable glance- was Lyther a higher rank than Shock? "With all due respect, Lyther, I do not answer to you, and I do not have time to exchange pleasantries. We are all hungry, thirsty, and tired, and we would like a place to sleep."
The Lucario smiled coldly at Shock as the rest of the patrol- whispering in hushed undertones- gathered behind their leader. "Very well, Shock; follow me," replied the warrior, his eyes and paws glowing blue. Something seemed off about Lyther that Sparktail couldn't quite place, but he pushed the thought aside and rested his paw on Thalia. Turning around with a swish of his cape, Lyther gestured to the patrol, and padded off down the paved road, the Retrievers following uneasily behind.
The city's infrastructure organized its streets into a large circuit surrounding Lake Helena, houses sprawled on vast ledges that rose higher the further up from the rocky shore. As the patrol followed Lyther down the paved road, Sparktail noticed construction teams in yellow, but ignored them.
They arrived at the emergency bunkers, build deep into the mountain during the siege of Sootopolis. Swallowing as they entered the steel complex, Sparktail recalled that the most of the survivors of Sootopolis had been in the bunkers. A few hundred survivors against thousands dead.
Six futons were laid out in each room. Normally, a human-sized futon should be more than enough space for a Pokemon, but... "To save space, I'll have to ask you two to share a futon," said Lyther to Sparktail and Thalia, who both went red.
Briefly, Sparktail wondered if humans felt this cramped when they got into bed. "It's like being back in a Poke Ball," muttered the Raichu as he and Thalia climbed into their futon. Thalia laughed weakly.
"Will you two be quiet?" said the Zangoose wearily, climbing into the futon next to them. She gazed back at them with hard, narrow eyes. "I don't want things to get messy tonight. At all. Got it?"
That night, after an uneventful dinner in the mess hall, Sparktail and Thalia huddled close under the sheets for warmth. Feeling trapped and anxious and restless all at once, the Raichu stared up at the cold ceiling, the pulsing of the Leafeon's heart his only comfort, until he finally drifted off to sleep.
Insyte stared down into the crater of Mount Chimney, the ground trembling with Groudon's voice. "Thalia had the Orb, I'm certain of it," said the Flareon, watching the seething magma. "It seemed so simple, back then, when we seized it from the desert. But to sever that chain, when it had tamed such a monster..."
"Excuse me, sir," said Marrow from behind him. "There's someone here to see you." Blinking, the Flareon turned to see a Lairon with bandages across his belly, flanked by Marrow.
Though injured and weary, the Lairon gazed at Insyte firmly. "You are the Vulcanite king, yes?" said the Lairon, trotting forward. "We've met before, in the desert, Your Majesty. I am Barrel, servant of Groudon."
Insyte stared at Barrel. Then, he smiled faintly. "Welcome to Mount Chimney, Barrel," said the Flareon, dipping his head to the Lairon. "Please, just call me Insyte. What brings you here?"
Barrel shook his head. A few feet away, Marrow watched the Lairon blankly. "You've felt it too, haven't you, Insyte?" said the Lairon. His voice was low and sturdy. "The power of the behemoth, left unchecked for twelve years. Even a tiny whisper makes the world tremble. So I'm here to see my master."
Insyte sighed. "If the Red Orb is the key to containing Groudon, then it seems we let our chance slip through our paws," said the Flareon, lowering his head. "I must see Groudon's current state for myself. Marrow, watch things for me."
The Houndoom nodded, and Insyte followed Barrel down the mountain. "I must say, you're very different from when I first saw you," remarked Barrel. "Back then, you seemed like just another Pokemon who lost his trainer. But the Pokemon of this volcano treat you like a god."
They entered a volcanic tunnel, echoing with the golden-hearted cries of Insyte's warriors. "This is the world I belong to now," said the Flareon. "Indeed, I once had a trainer. But for better or worse, those days are gone. Perhas this is where I was always meant to be."
They stopped chatting after that. They could both feel the discordant vibrations under the volcano now. Insyte followed Barrel down the tunnel, the air growing thick. The tunnel glowed with searing heat, the air in the tunnels blazing hot, illuminated by red-glowing flecks of embers.
Then, they entered a great hall studded with crimson crystals a narrow precipice led out over the fiery depths, a drop of thirty feet into broiling hell. The walls, the ceiling, the very air glowed with sweltering heat rising from the great magma lake below, bubbling with sulfuric fumes like the devil's breath.
Ancient symbols glowed on the walls of the immense cavern in deep red. Not the wings of the Vulcanite crest, but Groudon's rune, a dome of red claws. "Look well, king of the Vulcanites," said Barrel grimly. "For the one who sleeps beneath the magma is no god, but an avatar of destruction."
Even so, the torrid heat filled Insyte's fur until his eyes were silver with steam. For the voice rumbling in the molten depths was loud, warm, and alive, burning with primal joy. The great cavern trembled as Groudon began to walk, shuddering beneath a strength that could move mountains.
"The world has been in constant flux since the Exile's return, Insyte," said Barrel as the cavern trembled. "The chaos drew the Columns out from hiding, and they were swept up into this war against their wishes, much like yourself."
Insyte smiled and shook his head. "Though this war is rife with sorrow, I will not regret my role in it," said the Flareon, gazing up at Groudon in awe. "I would rather be who I am, than who I was. In two days, when Rush arrives at Sootopolis, I too shall be at his war council, for all the Vulcanites who believe in me."
On a white ledge in Sootopolis, Lyther gazed across Lake Helena, troubled. The Lucario tightened his grip on his crystal spear. Outside the ivory mountain, churning waves rose and broke against the white rocks, rising higher, higher. The sea was restless tonight.
"Do not dare to tread where others have fallen." Kyogre's warning echoed in the Lucario's ears, deep and rising, gathering momentum like a brewing storm. "You think you will find peace in the roaring typhoon? Be careful what you wish for, for the ocean tide is all too fickle."
A full moon loomed above Sootopolis, its silver light shining down through the crater and washing over the city. Moonlight cast an eerie glow over the buildings and streets, making them gleam white like bones.
On the far side of the lake, Shock stood guard at the Cave of Origin, surrounded by dim torches. But Lyther had a different destination in mind. At the water's edge, he pulled away the branches of salt-crusted trees, revealing a crevice in the rock wall.
Slipping into the narrow passage, Lyther made his way down the tunnel, the light from his glowing spear illuminating smooth walls. He followed the tunnel far into the shadows, under the ocean, away from Sootopolis. Lyther's tail swished in the dank, salty air. He stared at layers of sediment and stone, compressed as thin as paper.
At the end, the tunnel opened into a great cavern like an ampitheater, the air filled with cold mist, the walls glittering with fiery-blue crystals. A narrow ledge led along the walls, spiraling down toward a narrow precipice. Seawater frothed and foamed below the rocks, reaching hundreds of feet deep.
Making his way along the ledge, Lyther knelt on the precipice, holding up his crystal spear. "O Lord of Ocean Tides, I stand before you as a lowly servant of the gods," chanted the Lucario, head bowed. "I beg you to grace this servant with your prescence, and grant us hope against the Exile..."
From the foaming depths came Kyogre's reply, a raging calm, an invisible force. "Such pretty words you offer me," said the great leviathan. "But a mere image cannot withstand the pounding storm. How can the world hope to survive, unless it learns to move with the tide? Now, let us begin..."
Moving silently in the shadows, Lute padded along the east bunker corridor, slipping into Sparktail's and Thalia's room. Gazing at the Raichu and the Leafeon, the Absol sat back and waited.
He didn't have to wait long. Within seconds, he felt a paw seize his horn. Angry green eyes and static tingles set his fur on end. "Lute, you twit," hissed Sparktail, rubbing his eyes. "What do you think you're doing...?!"
The Absol smiled dangerously. "What do you think I'm doing here?" said Lute, licking his chops. "No, I need to ask you a few questions." Kicking Sparktail in the stomach, the Absol pulled his horn free. "Oh, what a shame. You've lost your touch."
Glaring, Sparktail got to his paws, staying between Lute and Thalia. "Oh, don't you worry, I'm not after her," chuckled the Absol. "You see, the Red and Blue Orbs went missing right after Shock's patrol left. And after Shock's patrol passed Lilycove, the Orbs mysteriously reappeared at Mount Pyre. Coincidence?"
Sparktail froze. "Tsk, tsk, why so troubled?" said Lute. "It's quite admirable, you know. Your trainer died for the sake of Hoenn, after all. To think that you and Thalia are so dedicated to him, that you would carry the Orbs all the way back to their proper place."
The Raichu sank to the floor, deflated. "No," whispered Sparktail, lowering his head in shame. "That's not what happened. I... I stole them." That night at Indigo Plateau, the feeling of betrayal, his anger at Lugia; it all seemed so long ago, now. "I, I just wasn't thinking. Why did I... why..."
Lute chuckled. "Well, everything turned out fine in the end," said the Absol, his eyes flaring. "Get a good night's sleep. Starting tomorrow, I'll be seeing you on the training field." Numbly, Sparktail stared as Lute left the room. Then, crawling back into his futon, he curled up next to Thalia, staring at the celing.
The wind's breath filled Altaria's wings and made her heart swell with pride as she crossed the starry skies over sleeping Hoenn. On her back rode Rush, his arm braces buckled on, the Delta Orb in his arms glowing in the brisk night air.
"Come forth, O angel of mine; tonight your arrows shall fly,
" sang Altaria softly as she descended toward Mount Pyre, her cloudy wings beating steadily. "[s]Yield never your true light e-ver to... all the gleaming stars at sea.[/i]"
Her father's voice joined with hers, clear but soft. "Hands of mercy will raise the sun; open your eyes, my dear flower.
" Coiled loosely around the shrine, Rayquaza slowly raised his head as Altaria landed on the velvet grass. "[i]Together our hearts will soar... our love shall always endure.[i]" Smiling, he gazed at his daughter. "You still sing Cumulus's song, even now."
Altaria smiled sadly as Rush dismounted from her back with the Delta Orb. "I just hope that he's still watching over me," said the Herald softly as moonlight illuminated her face. "I still love him even now, father..."
Pausing at Slick's grave, Rush gently patted the mound where his trainer was buried. Wiping his eyes, he padded up to the altar, where Sparktail and Thalia had left the Red and Blue Orbs. Taking a deep breath, he held up the Delta Orb to Rayquaza.
In the depths of Mount Chimney, Insyte and Barrel stared as the the magma lake below them began to bubble and seethe. Groudon rose up from the fiery depths with a mighty roar, scales dripping with scalding magma.
In the Sootopolis bunkers, Thalia turned in her sleep, leaves spreading as if she were under the midday sun. "Bloom by dawn, wilt by dusk," she muttered drowsily. "Toward the sky, new shoots rise..."
In the Seafloor Cavern, Lyther opened his eyes and tightly gripped his spear as seawater churned and surged, cold waves splashing over him. With a torrential roar, Kyogre burst up out of the waves and rose up into the air, his body vivid as azure crystal, his eyes filled with golden storms.
Next to Thalia, Sparktail flinched as a sudden chill swept over him like the winter sea, from his ears to the tip of his tail. For that brief moment, he put his broken sword out of his mind, shadows rippling on the ceiling as his cheeks crackled.
At Mount Pyre, Rush and Altaria stared as Rayquaza rose up into the air, the wind rising around them. From behind a gravestone, Mythic watched as the Delta Orb in Rush's hands flashed and pulsed. Slowly, the Tanuki smiled.
Rayquaza gazed down at Rush, tail flapping in the wind. "The crucial hour approaches," said the Sky Serpent. "Now, let us turn the key which the Virtues placed with Aurton Silversky's Pokemon." Nodding, Rush flung the Delta Orb high up into the air.
Eyes flaring, Rayquaza caught the jewel in his jaws, crushing it, swallowing it, reclaiming his power from twelve years ago. On the altar, the Red and Blue Orbs rose up into the air, glowing with blinding light before shattering.
Under Mount Chimney, Groudon gave a savage roar, towering high above Insyte and Barrel in cataclysmic glory. In the Seafloor Cavern, Kyogre let loose a mighty, thunderous bellow, shockwaves sweeping through the pulsing glow at Lyther's paws as he stared up at the ancient leviathan who commanded the sea.
At Mount Pyre, Rayquaza let out a triumphant cry and shot off into the sky, arcing around and spiraling up and down, swiftly snaking across the evening atmosphere until it shone bright as day, his eyes flashing like thunder and lightning.
Magma swirled around Groudon as seawater surged around Kyogre. Blue to Groudon, red to Kyogre, gold to Rayquaza; the veins of nature's avatars glowed bright. Then, the world shuddered, and one by one, each of the superancient Pokemon vanished into the air. And all across Hoenn, the distant prayer resounded: "On firm ground, through churning water, by open wind: let the will of the wild break free.