Legend of the Exile, Chapter 45: Broken Faith
The power to bind, the power to break
From roots of old, the new seeds wake
Warriors called from the distant land
For life and honor, together we band
In the deepest part of the Cave of Origin, the Swampert stared out over the glittering, crystal-studded walls, searching for some ancient sign of hope. Tradition held that life began in the Cave of Origin, and ended at Mount Pyre.
And yet, the ancient, spiraling flow had long ceased, the power of the wilderness beyond reach. "Groudon and Kyogre have vanished, and Rayquaza is silent," whispered Rush, his fists tightening. "Why do they not answer our calls? Have they abandoned us, to face the Exile alone?"
"What you seek is a catalyst." Blinking, Rush spun around to see a red-and-white Pokemon with a sleek, avian body approaching, a blue triangle on her breast and a red masklike triangle on her face.
"Hail, Rush, master of the Retrievers," called Latias, floating down toward the speechless Swampert. "You have demonstrated the power of strategy well; but soon, you shall know the power of instinct. Listen closely, and Ever Grande shall be yours..."
The ring of forge hammers to glowing-red steel reverberated across the great mountain-city as warriors sparred in the training field below. From the thunk of Thalia's arrows to the swish of Sparktail's tail, from the slice of Wyrn's rapier to the ring of Torrid's hammer, Pokemon of every race and nation trained themselves for the coming battle.
"Heroc, wait up!" called out a voice as a Breloom sprinted down the winding road with a quarterstaff on his back. His eyes narrowing, one hand reaching back for his weapon, the warrior turned around to see an Azumarill sprinting down the road after him. "Why'd you run out like that? The council wasn't adjourned yet."
Propping up his quarterstaff and leaning back, the Breloom looked hard at the long-eared Pokemon. "Foam," said Heroc, voice quiet but dangerous. "I think that this is a great mistake that we're making, working with these Pokemon from the northern lands. They are all but useless."
Foam sighed. "Look, I know that Rush and the others keep bickering, back and forth, and we don't really get anywhere," said the Azumarill, beginning to circle the Breloom. "But you know that we need their help. I think we can afford to let them have their long-winded debates."
"Long-winded debates aren't the half of it," said Heroc, turning his head away. "The wilderness has abandoned us. Groudon, Kyogre, Rayquaza, even the Herald herself; all have vanished since that peculiar night."
"It takes time," pressed Foam. "We may not have the super-ancient spirits at our side, but we have the gods of Sinnoh and Johto. Ho-Oh and Lugia, Dialga and Palkia; we won't stand a chance at Ever Grande without their blockade."
The Breloom was still adamant. "We haven't made the slightest bit of headway with the strategy. You know we made more progress in our three days at Dewford than these Pokemon have made in two weeks, and I'm fed up with it."
The Azumarill studied him carefully for a moment, then smiled. "It isn't as if Hoenn was united before they came," said Foam. "We never noticed it because our tribes ruled themselves, of course, but we were never one nation." The Breloom blinked. "After all... would you rather be under the Red Dragon's rule again?"
Mossdeep was neither easy nor clean.
Sparktail still remembered the craggy isle looming up from the sea, inhaling the ocean breeze. Rising and falling on the turbulence of the waves that crashed over his fur with every dip, he clung to the dappled blue dolphin-skin of the Lapras's neck, praying the sea would not swallow him. At the convoy's lead stood Alpheral the Mightyena, straining against the battering wind.
He remembered bounding down from the Lapras's back as they arrived, rolling as he hit the sand. The Retrievers landed on a sandbar with a grove of palm trees, perhaps two hundred yards from the island. At the Torkoal's cry, the Raichu and the other Retrievers rushed at the Machoke guards amongst the trees, sand coating his drenched paws and lower body as he ran.
He remembered splashing across the shallow waters towards the main island, wet sand and brine spilling down the stone steps as the Retrievers entered the city. He stared into the eyes of his foes as he rushed into them, not daring to look back to the twitching bodies behind him as he slammed an iron tail into a Kricketot soldier between the eyes.
He remembered the thrill of satisfaction as the patrol ascended Mossdeep City, the adrenaline wearing off as they stepped onto soft grasses. Near the top of the city, as they ascended the winding road, there stood a gleaming white rock, and etched on its surface was a picture of Jirachi, and he wondered vaguely as to what its purpose might be.
He remembered finally staring down towards the city below, the once clean and peaceful town before he and the other Retrievers brought war to its streets. It took a good long while before he saw the natives moving amongst the bodies, emerging from homes and nooks and crannies in the rocky slopes. Some part of him wondered if they'd really won or lost.
He remembered whirling around to stare as an explosion suddenly erupted from the space center up ahead. The Torkoal gave a warning cry and charged up the slope towards the dark building, the other Retrievers in the lead. As they approached, they could hear the rumble of massive runway shutters sliding open, reverberating from the launch bay.
He remembered how they burst into the air force base, bounding over a Lunatone and a Solrock laying in the entrance, both unconscious. Beyond a smoking pair of reinforced steel doors, the patrol saw a host of Gallades marching towards a flock of human jet planes. Panicking, the Retrievers rushed at the soldiers, desperate to stop them from seizing the destructive aircraft.
He remembered glancing up as a mysterious blue faerie-like creature descended from the ceiling, its azure head like a bishop's headdress. With a shock, he realized that this was Azelf, the third Guardian Spirit. "Such terror in your eyes; have you sacrificed your true power?" With eyes like thunder, the Pokemon gazed down at the Pokemon, cold and defiant. A chill ran Sparktail's spine, and the adrenaline of war evaporated suddenly, leaving the Raichu shaking where he stood.
He remembered how drastically everything changed as he stared up into Azelf's terrible eyes. Suddenly, everything gave him cold tingles; his paws, the floor was cold, the air was cold, and everyone who could help him was so far away. "So much blood behind you, so much blood ahead of you," said the creature. "Why fight on, and cause more misery?"
He remembered the shouts from the others as they fought the Gallades. Finally tearing his eyes from Azelf, the spell broken, he rushed at a Gallade, his tail rebounding off the warrior's forearms. Breathing hard, the Raichu shook his head, trying to force out those debilitating thoughts that left his muscles limp and his bones weary; he forced himself to defy the Gallades.
He remembered whipping around to see Azelf's body glowing with a brilliant light as the last of the Gallades fell. The creature's eyes shone with a terrible white power that neither Mesprit nor Uxie had matched. "Do not run from death," echoed Azelf's hissing voice as its eyes became utter white. "You could not, cannot, will not save the ones you love..." Familiar faces flashed before his mind's eye, and he stumbled back in shock. "You are broken, all of you! Broken! BROKEN!"
He remembered how they fled from the mighty white shockwave that exploded from Azelf's body, how the jet planes burst into flame one after another, how the explosion tore through the space center and destroyed mankind's technological marvels, obliterating them from existence.
He remembered how the building began to cave in on itself as they reached the grass, collapsing inwards. Weary and speechless, the Raichu stared up at the white rock, stared up at the carving of Jirachi, as if to question the Virtue why all of this had to happen. Yes, he remembered Mossdeep City in all its blood and violence...
And he could not escape that awful, savage joy inside him.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk. Thalia panted as she watched her arrow land in the eight-point ring. Up and down the row of archers stood thirty other Pokemon, some tall, some short, some male, some female, some born wild, some raised domestic--but it took every bit of her skill to keep up with the others.
Never mind the other two Leafeons. She couldn't possibly match them; they were in the top five in the skill ranking, and she was barely in the twenties. Was she really that out of touch? Yesterday, she'd tried swapping bows with another Leafeon, figuring that it was the metal of her bow. To her dismay, she did even worse with the oak bow than Shensing and Hador, while the other Leafeon landed six out of ten arrows in the nine- and ten-point circles with her bow.
Blade-bows, the other Leafeon later explained, were forged from a more flexible alloy than normal swords. They were slightly heavier than the oak bows, but were not so rigid as to interfere with the weapon's function as a bow. Dismayed, Thalia continued her archery training, struggling to match the others' skill levels.
Sword training wasn't any easier for her either. Even though she still practiced with Shensing and Hador as swords, she couldn't quite replicate that first glorious dance of blades on that day when she landed on the beaches of Olivine. Whether wielding one blade or two, each of her sparring partners were as difficult as the last.
As she practiced, though, Thalia did notice that she was improving, bit by bit. No, she might not be a sniper, but she was getting used to the feel of the bow across her back, the arrow against her cheek. With each passing day, her arrows drew closer and closer to the target's center...
"There you are, Sparktail." The Raichu turned to see Roathaus crossing the reef toward him, flanked by Lute a nd Klesr, Mythic padding by their heels. "Young Speedster tells me that your sword's in need of repair. Is that so?"
Blinking, Sparktail frowned at Mythic and his mysterious smile. Just what was the Tanuki up to? He glanced up at the Dragonite, fur prickling. His thoughts seemed to have slowed to a crawl. "Yeah," said the Raichu, glancing away. "It... broke at Lilycove."
His paws shook as he took the sword hilt and handed it to them. Lute inhaled sharply, and Klesr's eyes narrowed. "No mistaking this technique," muttered Roathaus, holding up the hilt to examine it. "The warped steel, the faint melting. Kusaan was taught by Blusabre."
Lute gestured along the length of where the blade ought to have been. "Thalia's swords broke too,"said the Absol, his eyes narrowing. "But the blacksmith at Mount Chimney, Torrid, repaired them."
The Raichu suddenly felt cold. "They... they did?" The Raichu stared at the ground. Thalia never told him about her swords...
"We're still a ways from reopening our doors ," said Roathaus. "But you helped Lute at Mount Moon. So the Swordwrit's making you a special offer. How about we repair your sword, eh?"
The Raichu's eyes widened. "Oh, thank you very much."
The Dragonite grinned. "Yeah. Now let's just discuss payment, and then we can get started."
Sparktail blinked. "Payment?"
Lute rolled his eyes. "We're a guild, Sparktail. You weren't expecting this for free, were you?"
"No, of course not!" said the Raichu hastily. He looked at them dazedly. "It's just... well... I don't know how I'd go about paying you. I mean, we don't have monevt y-"
Next to Lute, Lane frowned. "Can't we just bill him?" suggested the Sneasel, looking up at Roathaus.
The Dragonite shook his head. "We've been out of business for twenty years. I'm not taking any risks until we're back on our feet."
Sighing, Sparktail dumped out the contents of his pack. Three cornn berries, dried twigs and gravel, the handle of a bread knife, and his light ball tumbled out onto the sandbar.
Roathaus looked at Sparktail. "We'll take the volt charm," said the Dragonite, picking up the light ball.
Sparktail's heart skipped a beat, distant memories flooding back. The
golden crystal caught the sun's rays glinting off the waves. "W... wait!" protested the Raichu, his cheeks crackling." I... I can't give that away. Sorry..."
"Sparktail," said Mythic sharply. The Raichu stared as the Eevee joined them. "Roathaus is the guildmaster of the Swordwrit. One of the greatest blacksmiths in all Japan. And he's going to reforge your sword himself. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. You must give something up if you want his help."
The Raichu lowered his head. Did Mythic set all this up? He shouldn't have. It was Sparktail's choice whether to take the Dragonite's offer or not. How good was Roathaus, anyway? He glanced at the large black blade on the Dragonite's back. Sure, it looked very sturdy, but his own sword had, too.
Sparktail's head swayed. He felt dizzy and helpless. He looked down at his tail, scratched and bruised. "Fine," sighed the Raichu. "It's a deal." Staring at his light ball, the Raichu reluctantly handed the blacksmith his broken sword hilt.
Roathaus smiled. "You won't regret it," said the Dragonite, motioning to Lute, Lane, and Mythic. "Let's go, you three." Nodding, the three climbed back onto the Skarmory. Standing alone on the reef, Sparktail watched as as the Swordwrit flew off with the last memento of his childhood, wondering if he made the right decision.
Mesprit, Uxie, Azelf. They called him a rogue, a child, a criminal; too strange and bizarre for the discipline of organized war. He did not know whether he had bested them, or if they had bested him; he did not know if these were his thoughts or theirs. In his dreams, their taunting voices echoed from every direction.
What was he still fighting for? His mentors were dead, his teammates had gone their separate ways, and he didn't understand the voices of legend. He and Thalia should never have returned to the front lines. He had to be more careful with her.
Curling his tail round Thalia, the Raichu gazed up at the underside of the top bunk, listening to the soft rise and fall of the Leafeon's pelt. Slowly, Sparktail sat up beside her, his paw brushing her cheek fur gently. They were in this together, she had said. The Raichu wondered if he ought to tell her his thoughts... but no, she surely had her own problems to deal with.
He did not want to think about his failures, but sleep was no escape. He heard Mew's terrified cry as Mewtwo snatched her from the chapel's altar, Jirachi vanishing in a burst of violet smoke. Thalia burst into flames as Insyte fled over the ridge. And Slick crumpled to the ground beneath Giratina's terrible eyes, as Sheltur bled out on the lonely beach.
His silver-blue cloak rippling in the wind, Lyther curled a paw around his crystalline blue spear as he knelt on the edge of the white cliff, staring down at the city below. Why did he feel dread at the thought of the coming battle? The dark clouds of war were gone, Giratina's armies scattered and broken. And yet the aura was murky over Ever Grande, the lines blurred and twisted.
He heard pawsteps on the trail behind him, but did not look back. "I thought I might find you here," said Insyte as he joined the Lucario on the precipice. The Flareon's fur glowed faintly like a flickering flame as they stared down towards the waters of Lake Helena, eyes sweeping over the ledges. "So, is this where you've been during council meetings?"
"This is the only place in the city where I can meditate," said the Lucario, clutching his spear close to his body, still gazing at the city. "Down below on the ledges, one can only see their surroundings. One becomes caught up in trivial, earthly matters. It's utter chaos. But from here... I can see it all at once, and the pattern becomes clear."
Tiny swirls of dust gathered at Insyte's paws as he shifted his weight. "The view is beautiful, but the wind is cold and lonely," said the Flareon, staring at Lyther. "What about the Pokemon of the Silver Conclave? Aren't they trusting you to represent them? When you stand so far from your underlings, you forget who they are."
That stung Lyther, and he finally turned to meet Insyte's gaze. "I don't have underlings, Insyte," said the Lucario, still clutching his spear, drawing his cloak close to his body. The cool breeze swelled through their fur as they stared at each other. "I don't walk among strangers and tell them how to live. I can't change the world; I can only do what I must."
The Flareon took a step back. "I don't want absolute control over the Vulcanites' lives," said Insyte slowly, though his voice was uncertain. "Marrow, Hephaestus, and the other lieutenant generals are trusting me to lead. The Vulcanites look up to me; if I don't unite them, then who can?"
Taking a deep breath, Lyther stared back down towards the city. "Then who leads you?" asked the Lucario, gripping the spear tightly. "Who ensures that you remain an impartial, incorruptible leader? How can you lead so many warriors without getting lost?" He closed his eyes. "You exorcised your personal demons, but who can say they won't return?"
There was a long silence. Then, the Flareon's eyes narrowed, the tips of his claws emerging. "This isn't what we were meant for," said Insyte as he stared at the Lucario, hard. "We're warriors, Lyther. We belong on the battlefield, alongside the common soldier. That's how we stay in check. We see firsthand the consequences of our actions; we stay alert and in the present."
Stung, the Lucario stood up. "That's the difference between us, then," said Lyther as he stared at the Flareon, the wind lifting the ripples of his vast blue cape. "I don't have people, Insyte. I only have tasks." Feeling troubled, the Lucario moved past Insyte and down the path, all clarity and understanding scattered to the wind.
Several days later, Roathaus arrived in the barracks.with Sparktail's new sword, along with a woven leather scabbard and strap. Swallowing, the Raichu slowly accepted the refurbished blade from the Dragonite. The ornate hilt was now a simple padded handle with a cruciform handguard, decorated only with the eight-lined symbol carved on the handguard.
The sword was well-balanced, weight inclined toward the hilt, blade tapering toward its point. The steel did not glow as before, but still caught the light from the Raichu's sparking paws. The orange pommel jewel was replaced with a crackling blue crystal. "Not as pretty, but perhaps more durable," said Lute as the Raichu suspiciously held it up to the light.
"The new pommel's cut from a Thunderstone," said Roathaus. "Seems your sword was originally made from silversteel. The magic steel of the Silver Conclave. And that's fine for a human sword, but Pokemon need something with a bit more impact. The tang shattered from just a light tap."
He shouldn't have been surprised, but he was. "It shattered?" said the Raichu, glancing up to the Dragonite. He remembered Thalia telling him how her swords broke, and he thought back to how his sword had vibrated wirh every hit. Omega destroyed his sword barehandedly; but how weak had his sword been in the first place?
"Shattered like glass," sighed Roathaus, gesturing down Sparktail's blade. "You ishould've felt the blade weakening in the last few weeks. If not forged properly, a sword will be too soft or too brittle. That blade was like a cut crystal, barely tempered at all. Perhaps originally ornamental than functional?"
Most of the Dragonite's words were beyond his understanding. Giving the sword a practice swing, Sparktail thought vaguely that the arc of his slash felt more natura' than before. Was this what the Dragonite was referring to?
The Dragonite's eyes narrowed. "Of course, if you don't use it right, even a good sword will break with repeated stress," warned Roathaus. "In any event, we've replaced the blade completely. Now, your sword shines like the steel of Corundia."
Sparktail felt a chill go down his spine as he examined his sword, trying to imagine how much work Roathaus put into it. Running a paw down the blade's steel length, the Raichu admired the sheer, deadly strength that he couldn't quiteput in words, only feel. "What's Corundia?"
"Oldest human city in Hoenn," replied Mythic. "But it was destroyed in the cataclysmic wars between the superancient Pokemon, long before history began." He smiled. "Even so, it was the jewels of Corundia that tamed the world, and ended the war."
Sparktail stared at Mythic. "Speedster's quite the mythology expert," said Roathaus, shrugging. "They say Corundia had beautiful swords crafted from star-metal. Likely just a myth, of course. But we of the Swordwrit are drawn to such legends."
The Raichu took a deep breath. Gazing at his reflection, he thought back to the attack on the Silver Conclave. To that final look in Jirachi's eyes, before Mewtwo whisked him away. Stronger than curiosity, not quite a challenge; a promise?
He thought of Pal Park, the Dusknoir on the hill holding Elias's sword. He thought of the shipwreck where he first encountered Kyogre, seawater engulfing him in terror. Perhaps that was the promise behind this sword: to make sure that no one gave their lives in vain.
Buckling the sword-strap over his shoulder, Sparktail sheathed his reforged sword. He'd come this far, hadn't he? He needed to see this out to the end. "Sorry for being difficult before," said the Raichu, glancing up to the Dragonite, his throat dry. "Roathaus... thank you."
A tiny smile flickered across Roathaus's features. "A pleasure doing business with you, Sparktail," said the Dragonite calmly as he and Sparktail shook paws. "May the Divine Wind guard you and your mate."