When he turned towards the Ghost-type, an audible gasp left his mouth. Mark Antony saw Banette twitch the invisible strings of his dead puppet in a way that made Pidgeot gain a ravenous light in his eyes. He stepped back once, and that’s all the initiative Banette needed to give the mental order.
Pidgeot reared his head and flew over the two soldiers and their leader, who were too injured to move. The soldiers fired round after deafening round, but they could only watch in dismay when their bullets lodged into the bird’s unfazed corpse. Soon, they were out of sight when the massive raptor was on top of them. Talons dug into their chests for a perch before Pidgeot’s beak tore into meat and muscle. Those who were able-bodied ran away from the gruesome scene, their faces as white as sheets.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Mark Antony bellowed at Banette, his hands shaking at the sight he had just turned his back to. He had seen death and gore just as much as he had seen the sun rise and set for the past two years, but the sight of humans being so mercilessly murdered by such an unfeeling creature sent chills running down his spine.
The possessed toy looked at him with eyes that tauntingly danced within blood-red flames. He raised a hand, and Mark Antony was lifted into the air.
“You’re under my command!” the Johtonian shouted, livid with anger and fear. Already he felt that his limbs were not under his control. They were as frozen as the blood in his veins.
Banette sneered at the human’s claim. With a twitch of a finger, he unhooked Mark Antony’s Poké Ball and held it aloft. Within seconds, it was crushed into pieces of metal that rained down upon the screaming, dying men. At the sound of the Poké Ball’s remnants hitting the ground, the ghoul grinned in satisfaction.
“You vile creature,” Mark Antony spat, ignoring how the bullets fired at him by the surviving Kantonians were eerily deflected back at them with nothing but Banette’s hellish gaze. What was this twisted Pokémon planning to do to him?
His world was suddenly tipped backwards with another silent command from the phantom. Mark Antony’s sword clattered to the ground when he was jerked back by an invisible string at the back of his skull. The chill that had settled on his limbs spread to his chest and grew until he found it agonizingly difficult to breathe. Like a fish out of water, he flailed and wished for air, growing increasingly terrified. From head to foot, he was numb, and not even the burning of his hand and broken rib were there to remind him that he was still conscious. Mark Antony didn’t doubt for a second that Banette could kill with the bat of an eye.
Every color of the forest suddenly rushed at him in an overwhelming wave of hues. Green turned to black. Brown turned to black. Through the sea of midnight, Mark Antony only saw Banette’s cold eyes of fire.
When Mark Antony woke up, he saw the night sky above him was lit with orange. For a moment, he thought the sun was rising, but when the smell of gunpowder flooded his nose, he sat up, tensed. The fire among the stars was from war weapons, not the sun.
“What in Arceus’ name?!” he exclaimed. Mark Antony then began to harshly cough, which made his injured ribs rattle painfully. Mark Antony held his uninjured hand to his chest, greedily sucking in air. His whole body shook now that it wasn’t frozen by Banette’s power, and a giddy chuckle slipped out of him. The normally level-headed man sat there and laughed at the fact that he was still alive. This time, it wasn’t his training or intelligence that got him out of a scrape. The only reason he was still breathing was because Banette chose to spare him, for whatever reason. His fate was decided by a creature that was supposed to be under his control.
At the thought, he immediately became sober, then furious.
“That bastard,” Mark Antony shakily growled, cursing the scientist that had given him the Poké Ball with every fiber of his being. “That incompetent, lowly bastard!”
He would have sat there for hours if a glance at his blood-stained uniform didn’t remind him of who he was. Mark Antony stood up, but unlike the last time, his feet still wobbled and threatened to send him toppling to the ground. Stubbornly, he shook his head to dispel any lasting memories of Banette and looked around. A curse was muttered when Mark Antony didn’t find his sword.
I guess I have to make due with this,
he mentally sighed while slipping out his dagger from the sheath attached to his right boot. The small weapon felt like a twig in his calloused hand.
“Now then…” The amber-eyed man trailed off when he didn’t recognize any of the surroundings landmarks.
a snide part of his thoughts quipped.
For once, Mark Antony had to give that part of his mind some credit. Indeed, the only landmarks near him were the hundreds of charcoaled tree stumps that had long since finished smoldering. Looking down, the sergeant kicked up the blackened dirt and watched how it crumbled off in heavy clumps riddled with burned pieces of leaves.
“A battle took place here,” he muttered to himself. Mark Antony observed the wide expanse of field, now nothing more than five miles of scorched land, then a nearby tree stump. He traced the smooth grooves at the top. “Battle Pokémon cut this whole forest down in order to battle unhindered. Fire Pokémon then incinerated the fallen trees into ash.”
Mark Antony’s eyes clouded over, and even when he looked up to glance at the town a couple of miles from the dead forest, they were unfocused with thought. Faintly, as though he was recalling a legend from an ancient tome, the fire that engulfed the buildings further fueled the thought that kept turning in his mind.
There was no doubt about it. The only force with such strong Pokémon on its side was Cassius’ Kanto regiment. Charizard, Arcanine, Pinsir, Scyther, they were all rumored to be under his command. They had defeated a Johto regiment in this very spot and were now laying waste on New Bark Town. Even from this far, Mark Antony could make out the Johto flag mounted on top of the most important research facility in the region. It was not down, but he was sure that if he blinked, it would be lost in a sea of flames…
“But wait!” Mark Antony yelled out in surprise, the realization literally knocking him off his feet. Sitting on a stump, he stared at the hell-consumed town with wide eyes. He tried to speak, but his mouth had gone paper-dry.
But Cassius is back at Cherrygrove!
he silently reasoned, hands now gripping his locks of matted hair and staining them with blood. How could he be here, in New Bark Town, so quickly?!
Mark Antony breathed in the smell of the deceased forest in an effort to calm down.
Something else dawned on him.
This battle has been fought days ago… We’ve been deceived! Cassius was never in Cherrygrove! That was their plan! They led a part of his regiment for who knows how long to derail us from Cassius’ path!
“I should have seen Cassius with my own two eyes,” the officer rasped, gripping the hilt of his dagger so tight he thought the bullet in his hand would rip right through. Whatever pain that racked his hand was washed away by his fury. Mark Antony jumped to his feet, the stinging of his ribs just making him growl in frustration, and faced the fire-stricken sky. “Damn it all! Damn it all to Hell!”
And that was when Mark Antony saw something fall from the heavens.
As bright as a miniature sun, it lit the smoke-filled clouds when it streaked through them. Mark Antony leaned forward, mouth agape in awe. He squinted and tried to see past the veil of light that surrounded it. After a second, he flinched. Whatever kind of energy it was, it hurt to look at it for long.
“It’s a fallen Pokémon,” he reasoned, anger momentarily shadowed by hope. His legs automatically began taking him to the west, where the strange object was falling towards. “It was probably shot down.”
His jog turned into a sprint, then a full-fledged run that sent pangs of pain to run rampant through his chest. More than once Mark Antony had to force himself to keep running or fall victim to his injuries. If this was a Pokémon, he could possibly force it to help him back to Cherrygrove. Though his stomach tied itself into anxious knots at the mere thought of another Pokémon, he knew there was no other choice. Walking back would take him at least two days, yet that was if he wasn’t spotted by Kantonians. With nothing but a dagger he could barely grasp in his shot hand, the chance of returning back on his own was laughable.
“They’ll trip over themselves for the chance of capturing the elusive Mark Antony Colfax, the youngest sergeant to date,” he couldn’t help but remark. He unconsciously chose that moment to grip his dagger too tightly and suffer the excruciating pain of the bullet grinding against his cracked hand. Mark Antony let out a gritted curse and continued running, deciding to keep his mouth firmly shut from now on.
Then the air trembled and gave a low hum like the plucked string of a cello. Mark Antony stopped as he saw the streak of light suddenly plummet like a missile about a mile from where he was. The hum evaporated then came back as a sonic boom that threw him into the air. The twenty-five-year-old was flipped backwards and thrown on the ground, where he gripped his chest and squirmed in agony. When Mark Antony opened his tearing eyes, he held his breath, his body paralyzed in a half-crouched position. Try as he might, though, all he heard was silence.
“Dead?” Mark Antony asked in a rare moment of ineloquence.
He half-crept, half-jogged the quarter mile to the twenty-foot wide crater on the outskirts of New Bark. The closer he got, the hotter it became. By the time he looked over the rim of the crater, a sheen of sweat was visible on his brow. Every upturned rock and clump of dirt was seething with heat, and as Mark Antony stood up, the sole of his boots sent a wave of warmth throughout his entire body. With every hair on his head standing on end, he gazed at the undistinguishable lump in the middle. Was that small mass of yellow and gray really a Pokémon that could help him? Again, his stomach did unpleasant back flips. The earth around him, burned scarlet with whatever energy aura the creature had been surrounded by, simmered and crackled in warning.
“Death by Pokémon or by Kantonians?” his voice sounded, almost inaudible among the consistent sizzling of the earth.
Mark Antony gripped the double-edged sword and decided to approach the listless Pokémon.
As he began to walk towards the middle of the impact site, the charred dirt left behind clear imprints of his footprints before collapsing into fine crumbs. Sweat now dribbled into his eyes and to the front of his uniform to mix in with the blood that stained it. Mark Antony gripped his jacket and fell to his knees. Each breath was now labored and struggling to leave his parched mouth. Through hazy vision, he saw the lifeless Pokémon was no bigger than an infant. Uncertainly, he stood up and walked towards it, each step now hissing with heat. Mark Antony grunted when sweat trickled down his hand to pour into his bullet wound.
“You… better… be… helpful,” were his exhausted and frustrated words that made his ribcage ache.
Once he got his sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes, he looked down.
For a moment, Mark Antony really thought he was looking down at a baby. The small Pokémon was wrapped in two tattered tassels the color of gold while her small eyes fluttered against unpleasant dreams. Without even thinking about it, Mark Antony scooped up the bundle and looked into the Pokémon’s silver face and the bloodied cuts that marred it. She trembled in his arms, and the two cyan tags that dangled from the tree star tips on her head shook as though to dispel the nightmares that plagued her.
“What are you?” he finished, words now soft and difficult to get out. Vertigo claimed him and forced him onto his knees again. However, even through his blurry and unfocused eyes, the Pokémon’s injuries were as clear as day. He traced a rather large gash on her cheek and felt her flinch.
he mentally said now that his mouth only allowed him to release raspy breaths. Mark Antony looked down at the Pokémon, seeing helplessness and fear in that shuddering mass of injuries. Yet, despite the defenselessness, he sensed the inkling of something that told him this was not a Pokémon that should be manipulated for human gain. A sacred being was in his arms, and the thought of forcing her to do anything was lost.
Immediately, the overwhelming heat dissipated around them. Mark Antony, his breathing hard, saw the Pokémon’s face was strained with effort.
/I am Jirachi,/
came the telepathic call. The human felt the edges of his brain fizzle at the power’s touch. Goose bumps rippled his flesh.
“Jirachi?” Mark Antony echoed, the unfamiliar name rolling off his tongue in the same manner he recited the names of the Pokémon deities of his region; he didn’t know what made him realize that Jirachi deserved the same amount of respect as Johto’s Legends.
/I beseech you; help me./
Amber eyes opened to gaze at their potential savior. /My body cannot last much longer./
“What can I do?” the sergeant asked, oddly detached from the scene. He felt like the little kid he was so long ago reenacting one of his old bedtime stories. It should have felt silly, but with the gravely-injured Jirachi in his arms begging for his help, it felt anything but.
/Hide me away so I can recuperate./
“You’ll die,” he bluntly told her. “I’ll get you medical help instead.”
Either Jirachi found his frank words true or she had no energy to retort, she simply closed her eyes.
/I leave my life in your hands, human./
“Mark Antony,” he told her. “That’s my name.”
But Jirachi had already fallen into a restless slumber.
Mark Antony held the psychic close and looked towards New Bark Town. Somewhere in the midst of battle was a Pokémon Center that could save the life of this goddess of the sky. Were the chances of reaching it in one piece good? No. Even if he somehow managed to get to it without being shot on the spot, there was no guarantee the building was still in the hands of the Johtonians or even still standing.
“I have to try, though.” Mark Antony then looked down at the sleeping Legendary, each difficult breath rattling in her chest. “Are you really a deity like the Beasts of Legend?”
Jirachi only shivered in response.
A/N: The first episode of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is so similar to this chapter: unsuspecting human finds an injured creature in need of help, but at the same, it's more than it seems; the human then goes off to a medical facility. I thought the similarity between the two was so cool. ^^
Everything except the meeting with Jirachi was improvised writing. I SO did not expect to put in such a creepy scene like Banette's. It was a nice addition, though.
Chapter Six: Mark Antony makes his harrowing journey through New Bark Town with an injured Jirachi in his arms.