Legend of the Exile, Chapter 46: Grand Assault
Swift to the arrow by my boots
Lights are twining to their roots
Torrid flames shall roar before me
Let brine be tamed beneath my stride
"En garde," growled Lute as he and Sparktail circled each other, eyes locked from opposite edges of the sparring ring. The two warriors rushed at each other with outstretched blades, ducking, sidestepping, parrying, striking high and low.
The Absol's head dipped and rose as they exchanged blows, darting in and out of Sparktail's reach. Pushing Lute's horn to one side with his blade, Sparktail stepped in towards the Absol for a sideways cut-- and accidentally slammed the pommel into Lute's jaw with a nasty crack.
Howling in pain, Lute drove a hind kick into Sparktail's belly, thick claws burrowing into his flesh, forcing the Raichu to drop his sword. Quickly, before either of them could strike again, spectators on the sidelines moved in to drag Sparktail and Lute apart.
Outside the barracks, Ketrail donned his armor. Footsteps approached from behind. "There you are, dear," said a voice.
Ketrail turned around. Standing there was Kayla, a crossbow on her back. "Mom?" gasped Ketrail. "What're you doing here?"
Kayla smiled. "I came to join the fight, of course."
"Huh?" Ketrail stared at his mother. His eyes went to the crossbow, and his eyes widened. "Hey, is that--"
"That's right, your father's crossbow," said Kayla. She took out the crossbow and held it out so that Ketrail could get a good look. "I was amazed it still works, honestly."
Ketrail was stunned. "But... I thought you didn't like the war."
Kayla smiled sadly. "I still don't want you to fight," said the Linoone, returning the crossbow to . "What mother wants her son to go into battle? But I've come to realize that this is our only chance at a peaceful life."
The Linoones hugged. Tears welled up in Kayla's eyes. "Ah, Ketrail. What you would your father say if he saw us like this?"
The Raichu slashed at the targets as he moved, each attack a swift, controlled swing. Right paw under the handguard, left paw on the pommel, he swung at his foe with a forward step, a quick pivot of the blade, hacking the target's head in two. Electricity ran up and down his blade as he whirled for another strike, arm and blade moving together, ripping through the third target from left shoulder to right hip.
Seven days had passed: seven days of solo training for Sparktail. Seven days of running, seven days of footwork, seven mornings of waking up sore, seven nights of mind-battering sparring. Each day, he thought back to Slick's lessons and adapted them, reshaped them, relearned them, committing himself to the battles ahead.
With each passing day, he committed himself to the battles ahead, readily immersing himself in combat at every opportunity. This would not be like Indigo Plateau, where their foes knew no prey but the defenseless. And so Sparktail struggled to master his lost skills, to reclaim the innate agility of the Raichu. Movement was key in battle. Step forward with each strike, move back from the enemy's reach.
"Goodness, Sparktail," said Thalia one night, staring at the bruises covering the Raichu's thighs, shoulder, back, and torso. "Maybe you should take a rest for a day or two? I'm not sure how much more 'learning' your body can take..."
The three straw dummies crumpled to the ground, leaving Sparktail alone in the shadow of an ancient tree. Brushing straw off his pelt, the Raichu scanned the tiny island. No spectators this time, no cheering, nothing like Lute's sparring circles. That was fine, he told himself. Quiet meant he could think, right? So why, why should the silence unsettle him?
Turning, Sparktail noticed Wyrn a few feet away, rapier dangling from a leather belt. Had he been there the whole time, watching him? "So, you've finally learned to cut hay," said the young warrior curtly, eyeing the straw dummies. "So, how's Thalia? Haven't seen either of you lately."
Something was off, but Sparktail couldn't quite put his paw on it. "She's... fine," said the Raichu slowly, fetching some polish and a rag from his leather pack. He glanced down to the archery range where Thalia and her Leafeon kin practiced. He really ought to make time to watch her practice, at least once, but... "What's going on?"
"Oh, you're not on trial or anything, at least not yet," replied the Buizel a bit more harshly than intended, glancing back over his shoulder as Sparktail began to clean his sword. "There's been some unusual rumors circling the bunkers lately, though. Rumors about you and Thalia. Some are probably even true."
The Raichu paused cleaning as he saw Shock padding down the bridge, just behind Wyrn. The Manectric's eyes were unusually suspicious, almost unnerved, red electric jolts darting along his fur. "What sort of rumors?" asked Sparktail cautiously, rag halfway down the blade.
There was a brief silence. "The sort of rumors that one would expect to surround a recluse," said the Manectric. "We domestic Pokemon should know better than to shut ourselves away. But you're never at our practices anymore. You never talk at meals. No one assesses your skills; you only spar at night."
White gravel crunched under Wyrn's paws as he sat down, staring long and hard at Sparktail. "I... I guess so," said the Raichu awkwardly, avoiding eye contact with either of them. After a moment, he resumed cleaning his sword. What was Shock getting at?
"He's not been training alone, obviously," said Wyrn, turning his back to the Raichu, gazing over the city with arms crossed. "Someone else was training him, but he doesn't want to share who. Maybe he's hiding something." Sparktail frowned at the Buizel, but did not comment.
Shock's eyes narrowed. "You could have stayed behind in Indigo Plateau, and no one would have questioned it," said the Manectric, leaning towards the Raichu's ear. "But instead, you and your soulmate followed me to the front lines, a place you had neither the discipline nor the organized skill for. Why?"
To get away, Sparktail wanted to say. To get away from Indigo Plateau, from the war council, from rhetoric and schemes, from things beyond his control. But he couldn't bring himself to admit those things, not to Shock. "I don't know," said the Raichu, looking away. "I, well... I guess I was looking for something..."
From a high ledge, Insyte stared down towards the waters of Lake Helena, silver-blue eyes blinking. Closing his eyes, the Flareon took a slow, deep breath, inhaling the soft swirling wind rippling across the vast lake's surface and the distant trees, exhaling the rising heat and the churning fire. In through his nose, and out through his mouth; the young hero kept the darkness at bay, looking for all the world like a majestic lion with his golden mane and claws.
The Flareon stared out across the caldera, across the white mountain-slopes of Sootopolis and its peculiar houses, some still scarred by battle, some restored by Rush's best efforts. With every new sight, every new environment, Insyte saw the secrets of mankind, the ingenuity that the Exile had disdained. And yet he saw reluctance in the eyes of the ones before him, who recoiled from humanity's creations, as if poisoned by Giratina.
And yet, the Exile was not the first Pokemon to oppose mankind and all of its works. The Flareon gazed towards the lake's rippling surface, remembering how he had once seen a demon in his reflection at this very spot. As an Umbreon, he had all but rejected Slick's aid, refusing to accept the technologies that humanity held, the sheer knowledge that they had held. How could he inspire these Pokemon to embrace the humans' legacy, when he had turned his back on that legacy himself?
No, no longer; he was different back then. That was a time when he believed in the power of carnal thoughts and deeds, when he was a monster to all around him. That was a time when he thought nothing of good and evil, nothing of right and wrong, when all that mattered was satisfying the wretched screams of his heart.
Slowly, he turned around to gaze up towards the highest white cliff, the uppermost precipice where the Skarmories flew, where Rushing River stood ready. Like Ho-Oh's majestic feathers, like Lugia from the great abyss, they would rise from Sootopolis' summit against the Exile and his armies of darkness. All that remained to see was what would follow.
"Friends, family, and allies," called Rush, staring down at the great city of Sootopolis around him. "Today comes the fruition of your efforts, your determination; your commitment and your dedication. For today, we stand together, not as desperate survivors, but as warrior brethren, joined in the fires of Giratina's fury."
Weaving her way through the crowd, Amber's ears perked up at the sound of Rushing River's voice, echoing across the plateaus of Sootopolis. "For many weeks, you have toiled and pounded yourselves, driving yourself to greater heights. We are forged as one spirit; we will fight as one body."
Sheathing her blades, Thalia sat back on her haunches and turned to stare up towards the mighty warrior high overhead. "Today, we bring the wild spirit of Hoenn against the bloodthirsty dragon who claims to master this land," continued the Swampert as his gaze swept over the city-slopes. "But make no mistake; it has not, is not, will not be an easy trail to take. Our foe is a cunning beast who has spilled our blood many times over, and will not hesitate to do so again."
The city had fallen silent, but many held their stares. "Yet though we stare down a dark and jagged path, we know the nature of our enemy. We know the wanton destruction that lies in Scarlet Streak's veins, the terror she instills with her bloody gaze. We know the sadistic pleasures that the Red Dragon harbors, and the vile massacres that her troops have caused. It is time that we draw strength from our very cores, and from each other, and confront this living monument of death!"
Rush dipped his head as cheers resounded throughout the city, from every training area and every bunker, from every cliff and every ledge. "Death and tragedy will come; but we shall be stronger for it," declared the Swampert, a hand tightening into a fist. "For we are the Retrievers, and we WILL set things right!"
"Ruby Battalion, led by Insyte Faldsem, will scale the cliffs on the island's west shore," said Rush, tapping a place on the map as the council listened closely. Scanning the rest of the war room, Insyte motioned to Marrow and Torrid on either side of him, their gazes like sharpened steel.
"Sapphire Battalion, led by Lyther del Rio, will scale the waterfall on the island's southwest area." The Lucario dipped his head as Entei frowned at him, clutching his spear in one paw, his gaze hardened as if to shield his perturbed thoughts from the rest of the council.
"Emerald Battalion, led by the newly promoted Brigadier Shock, will land on the rocky isles to the southeast." Exchanging glances, Alpheral and Heroc glanced to the Manectric as he nodded grimly, stray sparks darting down his fur.
"Green Battalion, under my command, will approach the island from the east by sea." The Swampert cracked his knuckles, his eyes darting out past moonlit windows, great dark shadows shifting in the depths of Lake Helena, thin lines of bubbles rising to the water's surface.
"Red Battalion, led by Roathaus, will fly from Mossdeep and approach the island from the north." Meeting Ector's suspicious gaze, the great Dragonite nodded with a grim smile, silent but powerful, his charcoal-grey blade strapped to his back.
"Once all the defenses are down, we'll regroup as one force, and storm the Red Dragon's fortress," finished the Swampert, patting the map, smiling grimly. "By the graces of Jirachi, come the morning light, Scarlet Streak's reign will be at an end."
Frigid seawater sloshed against the hulls of Wailmers as they surfaced on the darkened eastern horizon, rising and dipping in the translucent dark waves, cool mist drifting from the Laprases' nostrils. Riding upon the ball-whale at the fleet's forefront, the Swampert stared off towards Ever Grande with narrowed golden-filmed eyes, the Retrievers and their whale-steeds spread out behind him in formation.
Ever-so-miniscule, ever-so-subtle, the shadows of wandering sentries slipped through the trees and the craggy peaks, their faint movements just barely registering on Rush's senses. This was where the Red Dragon's defenses were strongest, if not impenetrable; reconnaissance had nicknamed it the Forretress Wall.
Unnoticed in the gray clouds swirling overhead, Skarmories and Retrievers dropped down from the deep blue sky in a long queue, descending towards the brown crags to the south. the wind slapping and crackling between the Skarmories' steel feathers as they dove. At the lead of the Battalion flew Shock, whose steed carried the colors of war in her claws.
In the shadows of the great isle, a sodden, blue paw reached up out of the sea, clambering up onto a low, flat boulder that lay just inches beneath the water's surface. Wringing water out of his cape and fur, Lyther stared up towards the guards who patrolled the rippling lake high above, whose edge was swept down into the thunderous roar of a mighty waterfall, complete with white foaming waves.
Up into the great cascade the Arons climbed, their nimble paws finding nooks and crannies where other Pokemon would have slipped and fallen to their deaths. Slowly, they raised the cables that were hooked to their shells, long lengths of rope trailing behind them in the roaring waterfall. Down on the rocks below, Lyther allowed himself a small smile.
With silver-blue eyes, Insyte stared up from the narrow, rocky shores, to the great rock formations looming high above him like the spokes of a crown, where the earth had compounded and folded upon itself until the forest-wreathed mountain peaks loomed up from the relentless ocean waves, rising far into the dark heavens.
In the dim fire-glow, the Flareon could see a jagged, broken path of switchbacks and rocks before him, a champion's staircase dotted with patches of grassy earth. Did the Vulcanites of Mount Chimney trust him? He could not tell. Touching a paw to the Flame Orb on his neck, Insyte scanned his troops, signaled his captains with his tail, and began the long trek towards the summit, the others following after him.
From his Skarmory, Sparktail stared towards night-shadowed fields of swaying flowers amidst dark evergreen trees, the steady rumble of the distant waterfall and the unceasing gasps of freefall, feeling the oncoming breeze that swelled against his fur and forced its way into every nook and cranny.
The Skarmories dipped below the mountain-peaks, drawing his attention back to the objective at hand, the lesser islands swiftly growing to meet them. Slowly, they spiraled down to meet the grassy plateaus-- not barren outcroppings of granite, but remnants of a sloping landscape towering thirty feet above the foaming waters.
Scattered on the three distant cliffs, the Retrievers slid down from their Skarmories' backs, still unnoticed in the shadows. Securing his leather satchel, Sparktail glanced to Thalia, his sword at his back. "You look like you're still tired," said the Leafeon, glancing around to the rest of Shock's patrol. "Did you have more dreams about Slick, last night?"
The Raichu shook his head; the evening had been fairly peaceful after he and Shock spoke. "I wonder how long it is until sunrise," said Sparktail, just clearly enough for the Leafeon to hear above the wind and the waves. At the far edge of the northernmost bluff stood Shock and his steed, who gazed towards Ever Grande with stern, masklike eyes. "Have you ever seen her before?" The Leafeon shook her head.
Below the cliffs, the Skarmories began to assemble in formation, wings beating steadily so as to hover in place, joining beak to tail, connecting each of the bluffs to the other side. At a light-signal from Shock, each of the Battalion's captains padded up to the edge of their respective cliffs, queues forming behind them.
The telltale scent of the Exile's soldiers grew stronger as they crossed the dark straits on the makeshift bridges, paws darting down grassy banks. As the last Retrievers reached the other side, the Skarmories broke formation and scattered, flying off to join Roathaus and his warriors. Fur against fur, scales against scales, feathers against feathers; the three patrols advanced through the not-yet-dawn towards the woods on the other side.
On the other side, in the shadows of the trees, a Poliwrath halted in his tracks, then motioned to the troops behind him. At once, the Exile's soldiers readied their claws and tails, scanned the silent foliage for their enemies. The Red Dragon had promised that they would taste bloodshed.
From the shadows sprang a snarling Lute, followed by Klesr the Scyther and five more Swordians. His hornblade became a flurry of furious slashes, cleaving through a Vileplume's petals and body, flinging down a bloodied Bibarel as Klesr pulled his blades from a Ludicolo's chest. The Poliwrath's fist connected with the flat of his blade as he swung down, the Absol's foe stepping back from his rapid slashes.
Some distance away, a Rampardos tilted his head up as he heard the faint sounds of battle, the rest of his herd glancing around with hungry eyes. Letting out a battle cry, Heroc and his patrol sprang down from the high branches above, surrounding their foes. Smashing his quarterstaff across the back of a Cranidos's head, the Breloom readied a glowing fist as the Retrievers rushed at their foes.
The air filled with the banshee-scream of a Mismagius and the steady rasps of Duskulls as they emerged from the trees, followed by a Skunktank and several litters, their black fireballs streaking at the Retrievers. Barking an attack order to the others, Shock broke into a sprint towards the dark swarm, the patrol charging into their enemies.
Drawing his sword, Sparktail spun around to find a great Dusclops bearing down on him from the canopy. Striking for the phantom-beast's upper body, he ducked low to dodge his foe's shadow-ball, dark flames bursting on the grass behind him as Wyrn sprang over him with rapier raised. Rolling under a cawing Murkrow's talons, Thalia slung her blades up into the eye-holes of a Duskull's mask, whirling around to her paws as another Duskull and a Stunky rushed at her.
As the Dusclops swiped for him, fingers reaching out from its maw like pale teeth, Sparktail struck a V-slash through both disembodied hands, swiftly pivoting up into the ghost's scarlet eye. Lightning flew from Shock's maw, a howl like rolling thunder, sweeping for three Duskulls converging upon him. Her eyes flecked with red, the Zangoose swiped at a pair of charging Stunkys with swift reflexes, flinging them back through the air.
Meanwhile, on the west side of the island, Lyther and his team began to climb the ropes beneath the waterfall, the rest of the Battalion waiting on the shadowed rocks below. Concealed in the damp spaces just beneath the torrential waters, they clambered up onto slippery rock outcroppings, clinging to the spray-wet cables, knotted every ten inches for ease of grip.
Near the tumbling lake overhead, overshadowed by forests and hills to the east, Kricketunes and other guards patrolled the grassy shores with Rotom lanterns, the air thick with the Exile's trace-signals. A Scizor with half-blackened armor gazed down from the dilapidated roof of a red-and-white building, his gaze sweeping over the destroyed cottages in the surrounding flower fields. For many of the Exile's soldiers, heroes were nothing but myths; but for this one, they were prey.
There was the faintest swish, and one of the Rotom-lights went out, the Kricketune guards melting into the shadows of night. At once, the Scizor's eyes darted to the lakeshore, his eyes narrowing, watching as another guard-patrol vanished, followed by another, this one on the other side of the lake. A full-scale attack, or a single warrior trained in stealth?
A Kricketune whirled around as a blue crystalline spear plunged into its thorax, the chitin cracking as it sank to the ground, followed shortly by its comrade. A gray hindpaw blazed with fire as it drove into the back of a Pinsir's head, a burst of blue energy crashing into a Munchlax and knocking it flat on its back. And in all that time, the Scizor could not see the face of the attackers, hidden in the dark morning.
Like a ghost from the nether, a metal bolt sliced through the shadows and bounced off the Scizor's chestplate. Picking up the bolt, his eyes traced it back to Kayla, readying her crossbow for another shot. Screeching a call-to-arms to the other soldiers behind him, the Scizor sprang down to the ground with a heavy thud, his soldiers rushing out to scour the darkness for their enemies. Overhead, rows of floating Chimechos began to ring.
There came a flicker of electricity, just barely illuminating a Flaaffy's gaze before a swift series of blows sent a Politoed crumpling to the ground. A Wormadam glanced up in alarm as a pair of swollen Qwilfishes rained from the sky. More bursts of blue energy flickered in the dark, a Graveler slumping to the ground. Satisfied, the Lucario stepped out from the shadows, eyes gleaming in the dark.
A steel clamp locked around Lyther's throat, a pair of narrow, vicious eyes through a tapering skull-helm with angry black scars. The spear falling from his paws, the Lucario stared up at the Scizor, shock and fury flashing in the insect-warrior's eyes "You are not the one I seek," hissed the Scizor, flinging Lyther to the ground. "You three, hold him down! I have another to hunt."
Sitting upright, groping around in the dark for his spear, the Lucario stared blankly as the Scizor rushed off into the shadows, three Heracrosses advancing upon him with their long curved horns. Then, smiling grimly, he rose to his full height, and leveled his spear at the three clicking beetles.
"It is almost time," said Foam from beside Rush. Blinking, the Swampert glanced back over his shoulder through the early morning fog, to the Laprases and Sealeos in the bobbing waves, the Retrievers clinging to their steeds' backs. On the far horizon, Rush could see the first regal-blue flickers of dawn.
"Perfect," said the Swampert. A faint smile forming, he lifted his voice so as to carry to the rest of the fleet, though he could not see more than sixteen feet ahead. "Retrievers, prepare for conflict. All carriers, advance." Subdued, melodic calls flitted from Lapras to Lapras and Sealeo to Sealeo, the fleet beginning to drift forward on sleek fins.
"Sir! They'll pick us off like Magikarps in a barrel," protested Foam, staring up at Rush as the fleet advanced on the rolling waves. "The defenses on this side of the island will shoot us down with their spike-cannons before the carriers get close enough to fire!"
The Swampert's eyes gleamed as he looked to the Azumarill. "Even if they could see us through the dense mist that the Laprases and Sealeos have been creating, they wouldn't be able to shoot us," explained Rush. "You see... the sun is at our backs, shining straight into their eyes. Full speed ahead!"