Binding the innocent Pokemon to his will
Victims united by fate against his scheme
Together, they end his heinous regime
Smooth and silent, draped in fetid dark robes, the Black Prince slipped out onto the shadowed banks of Sendoff Springs with dark wispy claws. Disease and filth came from his every step, from the scarlet crown that adorned his headless neck, from a lonely blue eye hidden in dark smoke. A crescent sliver of moonlight faintly illuminated the wasteland that Darkrai had built from Sinnoh's ashes.
Cruel laughter echoed from the Horseman's unseen maw as pale white maggots fell from his tattered cloak, landing on the shriveled, half-rotting grass. Did the prisoners entombed in the caverns below still wonder why they could not move an inch in defiance, why they could not lift a claw to save themselves? They were in Darkrai's realm now.
Ah, but the night was still young, and there was more terror still to sow! To the nothingness between life and death, the lieutenant gave an unholy cry, summoning forth the spirits of the nether. The earth groaned as they came, the horrific wraiths of bloodshed, taking ghastly form as their master rose to meet them. Thus they flew off into the dark sky, bearing the chants of a bloody wild hunt...
Silence fell as the Black Prince departed. From the ridges overlooking Sendoff Springs and Turnback Cave, seven hidden figures lay crouched behind the boulders, not yet daring to move. Ignoring the hushed whispers of the others, Lute pressed his longhorn against his flank and stared at the lake below with narrowed eyes. Above the entrance of the cavern was engraved a red rune that made his blood curdle.
"Mew's mercy," swore Klesr from where he crouched beside the long-horned Absol, wings folded flat against his back. "The Black Prince himself, Lute. What horrors does the monster have for us in the caves below? We don't stand a chance against him." Lyther, Dantor, and the Houndoom all let out murmurs of assent.
"Then we'd better do this before he comes back," growled Lute, rising to his paws. Hopping up onto a boulder, the longhorned Absol glancing back to the rest of the rescue party, his eyes bitter red. "Everyone ready? Let's go!" The others reluctantly nodded, and they all sprinted down the path towards the cavern entrance.
The laybrinth was pitch-black and cold inside, and even with his innate night-vision, Lute had trouble seeing at first. The stench of accumulated sweat, blood, filth, and rot overwhelmed the Absol's, the Manectric's, and the Houndoom's senses, sending them all into panic; Elias and Lyther were not much better off. It took some time before Trident, Klesr, and Dantor could calm their allies.
Then suddenly, they heard the screech of quickly approaching Bibarels, and the entire group found themslves fighting blindly in the dark as heavy beavers tackled into them from all sides. For a moment, there was nothing but flashes of energy and the wet swishes of blades sinking into flesh as wild fangs bit at paws and legs-- then, the skirmish ended as quickly as it began.
There was a thump, followed by Dantor swearing and dropping to the floor. Rubbing his eyes, Lute wiped his hornblade clean and got to his paws to get a good at his surroundings. Squinting into the darkness, the longhorn Absol could barely make out the stone slabs in the walls, the four passageways that led down the left, down the right, straight ahead, and back outside.
They heard a small pop, and the Manectric's golden fur began to crackle and glow, illuminating the rescuer's surroundings. Moments later, the Houndoom set a flickering tongue of fire to his skull necklace, and the ornament flared up like a lantern fire. Lyther took one look at the bloody Bibarel bodies strewn over the floor in the blind skirmish, and his legs began to wobble; Dantor quickly moved to steady his brother.
Using one of the dead Bibarel's scent as a tracker, the rescuers followed Lute and the two hounds down the left passageway- and found themselves in another square room that was nearly identical to the first, down to the design of the stone slabs and the doorways. "I suspect that every chamber will be like this," noted Elias with narrowed eyes as the Manectric and the Houndoom examined the room. "We must be careful not to forget the way we came."
Chamber after chamber, they wandered through the catacombs, following the scents of guards and prisoners. "Guards! Get ready!" Trident would warn in a harsh whisper. At once, the rescuers would draw back into their battle stances- with proficient blade, with disciplined fist, with claws and teeth. Then, they would ambush the guards, slashing and tearing at the guards- Bibarels with buckteeth, Raticates with outstretched claws, pests they could not name- and again they would continue.
The deeper they went, however, the more muddled the scents grew, and the harder it was for them to follow the trails. Finally, they came to a room where they could not tell which door led onward. "Well, Lute, this is your mission," said Elias pointedly. "You decide which of us will go through which door."
The Absol scowled at the Sceptile. "Very well," agreed Lute, his eyes narrowing. "But if you die, it shall not be on my head." The other rescuers watched as the longhorned Absol began sniffing the floor again. "All right... I think there's guards behind all three doors. Elias and Trident, take the left door. Lyther, Manectric, and Klesr, take the right door. Dantor, Houndoom, and I will take the middle. Let's go!"
Down in the cells, Sparktail awoke with a start as loud cries echoed across the prison's halls. Sitting upright, he glanced blearily around the dungeon as other prisoners quickly stirred, filling the musty air with the sound of jangling chains. From somewhere beyond the cold dark wall came the scurrying of panicked guards, the cries of other Pokemon- Pokemon who sounded eeriely familiar.
Suddenly, there was a cry from outside the room, and the dungeon's doors were flung open, sending a cloud of dust up into the air as dim candlelight flooded the room. At first, there was confusion- it was not feeding time yet- but then something clicked, and the Pokemon realize they were being rescued. One by one, the other prisoners let out joyous shouts amidst coughing and hacking.
Rubbing his eyes, Sparktail stared uncomprehendingly as a Sceptile and a Lucario padded into the dungeon, their eyes gaunt but hardened. Then, each of them took out a pair of bolt cutters and approached a prisoner, severing the captive's cuffs and chains before moving onto the next and the next. Both of the rescuers looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't quite place them.
"I never thought I'd go free," whispered a Mawile beside the Raichu, watching the Sceptile approach with his bolt cutter. The sliced collar fell from his neck and clattered to the floor, followed by the muzzle that bound the Mawile's second mouth. His eyes lighting up, the freed prisoner got to his feet and experimentally snapped his back jaws several times. "Aah... that feels good."
"Don't waste your energy- we've got a long way to travel tonight," replied the Sceptile, not unkind but firm. He reached into his leather satchel and pulled out a decent-sized chunk of bread, handing it to the Mawile before moving onto Sparktail- the last prisoner to be freed.
As the severed collar fell away from his neck, a warm tingle ran through his body, and he felt the lively flow of electricity in his veins again. "Thank y..." he began quietly, then trailed off as he looked up at the Sceptile's face. Dangling from the Sceptile's neck was a shimmering crystal pendant, its pristine facets like a polished mirror. There was no mistaking the pendant. "Elias...!"
The warrior's eyes widened slightly, but he took it into stride. "Sparktail," said the Sceptile, pulling the Raichu to his feet. "I didn't expect to see you here, of all Pokemon. You have no idea what you've walked into. Where's the rest of your team? Insyte? Thalia? Slick?"
Sparktail's eyes fell-- he didn't want to think about what happened to Slick. Elias watched the Raichu for a long while, then softened. "Slick... perished, didn't he." Flinching, the Raichu silently nodded, wishing he could've just told Elias forthrightly- if for no other reason, then at least to honor his dead trainer...
"Just past this door."
The Leafeon's eyes flew open, and in an instant, she was blinded by light. One by one, prisoners all around her rose to their paws, shielding their eyes from the candlelight flooding into the stone chamber from the open doorway.
Standing in the corridor was a quadruped silouette with a long deadly blade, his backlit features too dark to see. Rubbing her dazzled eyes, the Leafeon stared confusedly as the figure padded into the room. "Everyone, remain calm, please," spoke the stranger as uneasy murmurs broke out around the dungeon. "Stay still, and "
Sparktail? No, that wasn't Sparktail's voice. It was deep, rough, and strong. The light behind the Pokemon shifted as a Lucario and a Houndoom entered the the cavern. Then, candles on the walls around them flickered to life, and Thalia could see her rescuer. "Lute?!" croaked the Leafeon, her throat dry as sandpaper.
The other two rescuers went to tend to the prisoners' bonds with bolt cutters, while Lute stopped in his tracks. Slowly, the Absol turned around to face Thalia with narrowed eyes. "You seem familiar," rasped the warrior, padding over to the Leafeon, who smiled weakly as he began to sniff her. "Hm... Ah! You're that one Leafeon. Your name was... Thalia, I believe."
Thalia felt a little excitement in her belly. "You remember me?" she asked, her fur rippling as she looked at the longhorned Absol. Four years ago, she had run into Lute- along with a band of other misfits- in the basement of a large, abandoned mansion. They hadn't seen each other since.
"Yes, yes, I remember you," replied Lute, rolling his eyes before shifting his head so that his horn was against one of the Leafeon's chains. "Now hold still... As I was saying, I remember you, yes, and your friends. And our friends..."
Insyte froze as light flooded into the room, revealing Lyther and the other rescuers. "You!" breathed the Umbreon, backing away, filled with some strange mixture of anger and terror. "No. Don't come near me! Don't touch me!"
The Lucario seemed not to hear his pleas; a few feet away, the Ninetales gave a bitter chuckle, but did not say anything. "Insyte, friend!" cried out Lyther eagerly, his eyes lighting up as he approached the Umbreon with a file. "Don't worry, friend. You'll be safe here."
Insyte recoiled from the Lucario's paw. "Stay back!" he hissed, his entire body shaking as Lyther undid his chains. He could not believe what he saw before his very eyes. Lyther could not be real. "You died. When Slick was fleeing Sinnoh. We all saw your Poke Ball fall into the ocean-"
"Don't worry, I'm not dead," assured Lyther, patting the Umbreon's flank and causing him to flinch. "And I'm not a ghost, either. I promise." And so Insyte was left to scowl as the Lucario moved onto the next prisoner, his fur still shaking.
Weak and gaunt, freed prisoners stumbled down the dark corridors, the narrow floors strewn with bodies of guards. the cold stone walls etched with twisted fading runes. One by one, the three doors flew open, and Pokemon filed into the square chamber where the rescuers had split up earlier. Quickly, the air in the room grew hot and loud.
"Insyte! Sparktail! Where are you guys?" cried Thalia hoarsely as she stumbled through the crowd, scanning for a glimpse of her friends. There! Over in the far corner, she saw a Raichu staring down at his paws, shoulders hunched. The light was too dim to see his eye color, but it was Sparktail, all right. "Over here! Sparktail, can you see me?"
Sparktail didn't seem to hear her at first. Still calling out his name above the din, Thalia worked her way towards him, squeezing past others. Then as she drew close enough, he looked up and saw the Leafeon. For a moment, she thought he looked terrified- then he gave a slight smile.
Happy and relieved, Thalia hurried to her best friend and hugged him. He still looked tired and deeply uncomfortable- but they hadn't gotten out of the prison yet, after all. "Oh good, I'm glad you're safe," sighed the Leafeon as she joined him on the wall. "Any sign of Insyte yet?"
"Perhaps you should look near the pillar," suggested a voice. Startled, both Thalia and Sparktail turned to see a young Lucario crouching beside them. "Hello, Sparktail; and hello, Thalia," greeted Lyther as they stared at him. "What's wrong? You look like you're seeing a ghost."
Feeling at a loss for words, Sparktail stared at the Lucario, mouth agape. "W-well, um, aren't you a ghost?" Thalia, her fur rippling as she glanced between Lyther and her own paws. "Erm, sorry, I didn't mean it like that. It's just that, well, we all thought you died..."
She trailed off as the Lucario hugged her. "Don't worry, I am truly here," said Lyther, crouching down so that they were eye-to-eye. "And I'm not the only familiar face you'll see." Sparktail's ears twitched, but he said nothing.
"Lyther dead? No such luck, unfortunately," grumbled Insyte as he and the Ninetales joined them. Thalia frowned at Insyte, and the Ninetales slapped him with a tail, but Lyther simply chuckled and patted the Umbreon.
Meanwhile, Sparktail stared at the Ninetales, thinking that she looked a little familiar, not to mention rather pretty. He glanced over her slender paws and softly gleaming eyes, and wondered vaguely what she might look like in the daylight.
Then the Raichu felt something slap his paw lightly, and he glanced to see Thalia retracting a vine. For a moment he thought she was frowning- but it must have been a trick of the light, because she covered her mouth with a paw to muffle any giggles. "You're silly, Sparktail," chuckled the Leafeon, giving him a playful push. "You know, it's not nice to stare!"
The Ninetales gave a small smile, but it quickly faded. "Please, don't treat me like a stranger," said the nine-tailed fox softly as she turned to face Sparktail and Thalia. Insyte shot her an annoyed look, but did not comment. "It's only me. Shanala."
Sparktail blinked, feeling stupid for not recognizing her before. But then again, Shanala had only been a Vulpix when he last saw her. "Shanala?!" gasped Thalia, staring at her before getting up on her hind legs to hug the Ninetales. "Oh my gosh... I'm sorry!"
Meanwhile, on the far side of the room, Lute climbed up onto a rock to scan the crowd for his Swordians, but had no such luck. "Sonuvabitch," swore the warrior as Klesr joined him. "We came all this way to find them, and not a damn one of them was here. Any ideas?"
"Perhaps there are other cells here," replied the Scyther, though he didn't look or sound any more hopeful than his master. "I have heard rumors of larger beasts in this prison, locked away in deeper levels of security. But there's nothing to match their descriptions."
"Manectric, Houndoom- check if all Pokemon are ready to move," ordered Elias as he crossed the room. Both hounds nodded and padded away as the Sceptile addressed the two Swordians. "Lute, I am sorry that we did not find your men, but I fear we have lingered here too long. We must leave."
Both Swordians went rigid. "No!" snarled Lute as he spun to face Elias, eyes like fire, blade ready to strike. "I wion't abandon my men, not anywhere, and especially not in this hellhole. I may never get a better chance to save them!"
"Elias is right, Lute," said Trident, joining them, arms crossed and eyes narrowed. Scowling, Lute whirled upon the Lucario, but Trident was unintimidated. "It will take hours for us to search these catacombs to their fullest depths; it may cost us our chance of return. The Black Prince's prescence forms a dark haze in the Aura, Lute; and with every passing second, the darkness he casts draws ever closer."
"Then... let us go."
One by one, the captives followed after the rescuers towards their freedom. Though weary, they stumbled down the corridors, hurrying through dungeon after dungeon; those who could not walk were carried. Scrambling down and back up flights of stairs, crawling over the bodies of dead guards, rescuers and rescuees alike continued their flight into the evening air beyond.
At last, the Pokemon emerged from Turnback Cave. Liberated prisoners poured out from the cavern, splashing down into the shallow lake, washing the filth from their bodies. As he stepped out onto the banks of Sendoff Springs, Insyte closed his eyes and let the tranquil breeze sweep through his dark shaggy fur, his rings glowing like moonlight. After the hot stale darkness of the dungeons, Sparktail had never been so glad to taste the fresh, cool air. Immersing herself in the water, soothing her parched throat, Thalia opened her mouth and gave a rusty-but-joyful cry.
But the joy was short-lived. "Trident!" called Lute, climbing up onto a large boulder, eyes narrowed towards the descending crescent moon, eyes scanning for the faint rays of daybreak. "How long do we have before the Black Prince returns?"
Troubled, Lyther and Dantor glanced to their elder brother. "We have perhaps ten minutes, but absolutely no more than fifteen," replied the Lucario after a moment, breathing heavily. "By then, Darkrai will be close enough to sense us. Lord-help-us-all if that happens."
In the dim candlelight, Sparktail could make out Shanala's features a little better, and he guiltily thought back to weeks of nights around the campfire with Shanala and Insyte and Rush- before he found Thalia in the basement of that abandoned mansion.
"So, Lyther, what's the plan?" asked the Ninetales quietly as she rose to her paws, taking no notice of Sparktail or Thalia- or of Insyte's scowl. Curious, the Lucario looked back to her. "I understand that you have a place set aside for us, correct?"
"Well, let's see," said Lyther, sitting down cross-leged in the dead grass. The others watched as the Lucario began tracing a map of Sinnoh in the dirt. "We are here, at Turnback Cave, in the shadow of Mt. Coronet," said the Lucario. making a dirt on Sinnoh's east side. "Now, the camp is located around here. It's nice and safe in the heart of the woodlands." He made an X on Sinnoh's west side. Exchanging glances, Sparktail, Thalia, and Shanala all stared down at the map.
"Brilliant, I really see why they call you a prodigy," snorted Insyte. Surprised, the others all glanced up to stare at the Umbreon as he kicked dirt over Lyther's map. "How can you all be so stupid?" he shouted, striking the ground with a paw. "We've been locked up for a week for god-knows-how-long while he's been kicking it back in the forest safe and sound, then he comes loping up and you all suddenly perk up and listen! What is wrong with you all?!"
"Insyte, my friend, you are strong and intelligent, but you are lacking in spirit," said Lyther, unperturbed by the Umbreon's words. Sparktail and Thalia exchanged nervous glances as the Lucario crouched down and placed his paws on Insyte's shoulders. "It is not I who you are angry at, it is yourself. Be at peace with yourself. Breathe in, and breathe out..."
"GET OFF ME!" shouted Insyte, kicking the Lucario away with his hind paws. "You see? You see? He thinks he's the teacher and we're all his students. He pulls shit out of his ass to get everyone's attention, and it works! He goes 'Oh woe is me! My destiny!' And what do you do? You all listen to him like little puppies- JUST LIKE YOU ALWAYS DO!"
Other Pokemon began to turn their heads to stare at Insyte now. "Now, now, what's all this?" demanded Elias, striding over to the group, his arms crossed. "Lyther? Ah, you're busy. Sparktail? Never mind, you won't tell me anything. Someone, do explain what's going on. Come, now, we mustn't bicker amongst ourselves."
"Don't worry, sir, it's no trouble at all," spoke Shanala before Insyte could snap at Elias, her voice low and husky. She tapped the Umbreon with a tail. "Our teammate here is simply... a bit stressed from his imprisonment, and is being rather uncooperative. Pay him no attention."
At that, Insyte's eyes flared like blood, and he twisted around to bare his teeth at the Ninetales. "Oh, I see how it is," seethed the Umbreon. "You won't look at me, not once, after all these years; but you trust poor little Lyther, don't you. You wicked vixen! You'll trust Lyther and his thrice-damned silver tongue, and all his preachings of DESTINY- but you don't give a rat's ass about me!"
Unsure of what to say, Sparktail slowly backed away. "Insyte! Please! We're a team," pleaded Thalia, trembling as he turned his smouldering gaze on her. "Listen... Elias is right! We shouldn't argue with each other. We're a team, and we all belong together... Don't you agree?"
"Shut up, Thalia! You don't understand," snapped Insyte, eyes flaring with anger, causing the Leafeon to shrink back against the rocks. "Lyther was born a prick, and he'll die a prick! He thinks he's some big-time hotshot savior because of his gift for 'Aura'. But you know what? It's HIS fault Slick died! He ditched us in Sinnoh, remember? He wasn't there to protect Slick! It's his fault!"
"What?!" yelped the Leafeon, glancing between Lyther and Insyte. "But but- Lyther fell into the freaking ocean! We all thought he died! How was he supposed to get back? It wasn't HIS fault he fell into the ocean, right?"
"Perhaps it's you who's making stuff up on the spot, Insyte," replied Shanala calmly, with the faintest prick of spite in her voice. "Perhaps it's you who's condescending, you who think's he's a savior, you who's a prick... and you who's to blame for Slick's death."
"And that's another thing!" shouted Insyte, whirling around with flashing red eyes. "Look at Shanala here, Thalia. Just look at her! She doenes't care. Isn't that right? She's got a touch of death! Don't you know that every person she's ever cared about turns to ashes?"
Horrified, Shanala stared at Insyte, but the Umbreon ignored her and continued. "And a third thing," he hissed, turning aside. "You'd better think long and hard about what you want to do now. You say we're a team, Thalia? Not anymore. The only one that held us together was Slick, and he's dead!"
"If you don't want to be with us anymore, Insyte, then get out," said Shanala bitterly, hot tears rolling down her cheek fur as she rose to glare at the Umbreon. "We could all do better without you." Horrified, Thalia turned to stare at the Ninetales- but Insyte simply nodded and began to pad off.
Thalia sprang at Insyte to stop him, but missed and hit the ground in a tumble. Without thinking, Sparktail quickly stepped in front of the Umbreon, his heart pounding and his head still hazy but his tail ready to strike. "Out of the way, Sparktail," shouted Insyte, eyes flashing. "I've no patience for you either."
When the Raichu hesitated, Insyte tackled him aside, knocking him to the ground. "Why do you even try?" snorted the Umbreon, smirking down at Sparktail before padding away. "You know I'm right anyway. Some day you'll walk out on them too!" As Thalia helped the Raichu to his paws, they stared after Insyte's fleeing shadow, vanishing over the ridge and out of sight.
Missed the previous chapter? Click here to Read Legend of the Exile Chapter 3: Chains of Darkness