/A human who knows so much about me?/
a feminine voice appeared in the air. Within the exhaustion, there was a small smile in her words. /I am honored./
“Jirachi?” Mark Antony stroked her blanched face, trying to get her to open her eyes. Jirachi wormed an arm out of the cloth cocoon to clutch one of his fingers, reassuring him that she was there even if she couldn’t see him. Newman leaned in closer, if that was possible, his eyes now as wide as saucers. His own hand hovered above her, fingers twitching as he debated over whether to touch this elusive creature. Instead of risking another suspicious glance from Mark Antony, he retracted his hand and settled for observing her.
“Did you really give your wish tag away?” was the first thing that was out of Newman’s mouth. This was received with a dirty look from the chestnut-haired man. Mark Antony would have clobbered Newman for not seeing that a missing wish tag was the least of Jirachi’s worries if his hands weren’t full.
Jaw set in irritation, Mark Antony continued on walking down the street with a call for Newman to keep leading the way. The older man started at the abrupt departure and quickly took his place at the front. A couple of minutes were spent on going around collapsed house walls and craters created by Pokémon attacks, and the two humans had thought Jirachi had fallen back into her restless slumber until the back of their minds tickled with her presence. They kept on walking, but their eyes had been drawn back to the Wish Pokémon.
/I… don’t remember who I gave my wish tag to,/
Jirachi confessed to them. Her tone told of decades she had spent on pondering the question in vain. /Even though it is a part of me, for some reason, I cannot feel its presence./
While Newman was left to muse on this mystery, Mark Antony asked, “Why are you healing me? You should use your remaining power on yourself.” Discreetly, he flexed his shot hand, silently marveling at how his bones only throbbed in protest, and touched the side of his abdomen. Crusted blood was felt on his vest, but the rib he was sure had been on the verge of puncturing through his skin could no longer be felt. The answer to his question had been swirling in his mind all this time, but he wanted to know exactly why Jirachi thought that by saving his life, hers would in turn be saved.
/You already know the answer to that question,/
Jirachi told him, her words still veiled by a smirk. /Your wounds in comparison to mine are superficial. While my remaining power can fully heal you, my own injuries will still be as grave./
Mark Antony nodded then thought of something. “You don’t seem to have a hard time communicating anymore.”
/I no longer feel the need to create a barrier around myself. I feel safe in your arms./
This caused the young human to blush.
“Mark,” Newman’s voice rose above his Cyndaquil’s anxious squeaks. “There it is, the Center…” When he turned, the scholar’s face had gained an ivory-white shade that relentlessly drained his color. Mark Antony barely had the time to grab the man’s shoulder before Newman collapsed on the floor. Komali looked up as Mark Antony laid the man down on the street, his middle and forefingers deftly picking out the professor’s weak pulse on his neck.
“Calm down, calm down,” he shot at the stressed echidna. “Newman just collapsed from blood loss. The walk over here exhausted him further, so that didn’t help any.” Mark Antony looked up and saw the square outline of the Pokémon Center. An intake of breath ceased his chest and made his heart start to flutter madly behind his newly-healed ribs. “Stay here with your master.”
Komali looked at him, his hackles rising in protest, but then looked down at Newman and decided against going after him. Mark Antony, hypnotized by the building that was coming closer and closer with each running step he took, paid him no heed. He held Jirachi close to his chest, and even in her weakened state, the Psychic-type felt his heart pounding madly with glee. Jirachi managed to tilt her head up, eyes opened a crack, and see the change in his expression when he stopped seconds later.
“What in Arceus’ name…?” Wide eyes turned into infuriated slits. “No. No! This is not how it’s supposed to be!”
Mark Antony walked through the blown doorway and the only wall of the building that was still standing. Boots crunched the wooden remains of the rest of the Pokémon Center and the sea of broken glass that sparkled with pools of medicine. With each step, the smell of charred oak and human flesh wafted over him, undoubtedly more toxic than the silver smoke that hung over the scene. Standing on a small mountain of wobbling wood, the new vantage point allowed him to make out where Pokémon had charged in with their monstrous claws and started to conjure their hellish flames. On their way, the brutes had left crushed and charcoaled corpses that forever wore masks of terror and desperation. Some were merely citizens and staff, as he had expected the moment his nose picked up the grotesque odor of cooked flesh, while others sported the tattered remains of the Johto uniform.
At that moment, the true horror dawned on him. Every civilian in this place had been scarified for the two measly, Johtonian soldiers he saw among the rubble. The clerk buried beneath the boards of his counter and shelves might have only greeted the soldiers as they entered. Doused in the liquid remains of the windows, the dead twins in the corner might have marveled at the soldiers’ weapons and begged the men to let them see them up-close. Through it all, the two nurses, their bloodied and bruised corpses only recognizable by their white dresses, had tried to heal the Johtonians’ wounds.
For a while, he stood there, frozen in place, until he realized that the mound he stood on wasn’t entirely made out of shrapnel. The sight of a mangled hand reaching out of the wood made Mark Antony utter a gasp and lose his balance. A hiss of pain slithered from his lips at the sensation of dozens of glass shards sticking to his back; a slight turn of his head revealed he had missed a rusted nail to the head through sheer, dumb luck. Jirachi struggled in his iron grip, trying to see what was wrong, but Mark Antony was already getting to his feet and brushing the glass with a hand.
“I’m okay,” he automatically told her, rubbing away the tears that sprung into his stinging eyes; the smoke had begun to settle over the decrepit remains of the Center. Never one to beat around the bush, the words, “There’s nothing here to help you,” were out of his mouth before he could stop them. When he caught what he had said, Mark Antony closed his eyes and clamped his mouth shut in anger. For the first time in his military career, he was caught without a backup plan. What had made him neglect to think ahead he couldn’t exactly pinpoint. All he knew was that Jirachi made him feel as though he could achieve anything despite the stacked odds.
It was probably my healed injuries that fueled my confidence, turning it into cockiness,
he bitterly snapped at himself.
He tried to tell himself that he always knew that the Center was most likely destroyed, but the prideful part of him was simmering with self-loathing.
/Mark Antony, cease your shaking. This is not your fault./
The human’s amber eyes snapped open, and they trailed to his trembling hands. Mark Antony looked upon the wreckage again. He felt he needed to say something, an apology or even a prayer despite the fact he wasn’t religious, but nothing came to mind; Mark Antony couldn’t even muster up the energy to apologize to the Pokémon who had healed him and was now destined to die in his arms. All he wanted to do was get away from the scene before his self berating reduced him into a pathetic shadow of his former self.
Jirachi shouted in his mind. Mark Antony stopped his journey to the door and looked down, his face still marred with anger. /I sense something that can be of use. Over there, by the western side!/
“What is it?” Mark Antony asked, his glare softening at the thought of finding something of use in the debris. Despite the glimmer of hope, he had no idea what Jirachi thought could be salvage. Could it be a vial of medicine that had rolled away from the falling walls and the trampling of Pokémon?
/It’s buried beneath that mountain of debris,/
she directed him. Mark Antony eyed the pile of wood and tried to knock off the section of wall that made up the top. Glass shattered when he finally managed to push it off, and now he got to his knees to look through the pieces of wood. Something small in the middle was outlined by the light that trickled through the pieces of debris. Somehow, the bigger pieces at the bottom had helped form a small alcove in the center that kept the rest from smashing whatever was in the middle.
“What is it?” the human asked, more annoyed than perplexed. Why was Jirachi wasting his time on digging out some bundle when he could be out tracking down something else? He was a man of action, one who had grown to learn that time was of the essence.
/It’s a human baby on the last threads of life./
Mark Antony pulled back from the wood pile to stare at her, about to protest that he couldn’t try saving another life on top of hers. To his surprise, the Legend was gaining a sheen of china-blue light that covered her body.
/By saving it, you will save my life./
Jirachi managed to fully open her eyes, the glow around her body beginning to brighten and pulsate in waves that rolled towards her extremities. Mark Antony saw her butterscotch irises growing into a hue of slate-gray that revealed the fearful shine she had been hiding. When he was about to ask what was going on, she gave him one of her rare glares; her wish tags rustled with the sudden surge of power.
/You helped me immensely since we met, but now it’s time for me to carry out my last resort. My body is ready to give out on me, and there’s nothing you can do.
Her eyes, now holding just a tint of melted amber, softened. /Mark Antony, if you want to help me, rescue that baby./
Wordlessly, the sergeant laid her on the ground and managed to weave his hands into a space in the pile of wood. His fingers met burnt oak and gnarled nails before they encountered the wrapped bundle. With a hitched breath, he eased the bundle out and held it in his hands. Mark Antony breathed out when he was, indeed, holding a baby in his hands. The infant’s grimy body was mottled with bruises, cuts, and minor burns that the tattered blanket had no hope in protecting her from. When he put a finger to her quivering mouth, the weak, uneven gasps were like caresses from a feather. A pink ribbon was still tied to her fair hair.
He sat there, mind going blank. Never in his life had he held something so delicate in his hands. Jirachi, though helpless, always had the aura of a deity about her. The moment he had held the Wish Pokémon in his arms, he knew she could’ve controlled his very will if she wasn’t critically injured. However, this baby
was just that, a baby. If he dropped her, she would die. If he did nothing, she would die. Mark Antony, the type of young man who aspired to become a military hero rather than a future father, was at a complete loss at what to do.
Jirachi managed to get on her wobbling feet, the energy that now masked her injuries giving her the strength to stand. Mark Antony stared at the abandoned strips of cloth at the Legendary’s feet then at her. Why did she look ready to die before his eyes even though she could stand? She easily met his befuddled expression with a small smile, but Jirachi’s face had the appearance of aged parchment. When she rose an inch off the ground, she seemed as lifeless as a strung puppet.
“You’re… stronger,” he told her, feeling goose bumps rise along his flesh. No, stronger
wasn’t the right word. With her haggard face and the way she let her limbs hang lifelessly, she resembled an animated corpse. Mark Antony visibly cringed at the fresh memory the comparison brought on and decided to divert his attention to the baby in his hands. Instead of being shocked that the infant girl gained the same cerulean glow, Mark Antony grew annoyed.
“Okay, Jirachi, what the hell is going on?” he demanded. The way she calmly met his eyes with her exhausted ones just furthered angered him. His goose bumps evolved into full blown chills, however, when tears began to leak from her eyes. Jirachi brushed them away and shook her head at herself. Yet the tears could not stop flowing, and the psychic ended up turning her face away when a sob shook her shoulders.
I’m sorry I couldn’t keep my promise, Death,
Jirachi mentally voiced, feeling her heart tear in two at the mention of the reaper and the oblivious souls he was in charge of. For how long would their world be absent of stars? After she left Death’s tower, Jirachi had no doubt that she could get rid of the perpetual gloom the denizens had to suffer through, but now it seemed they would never have the Earth they thought they had.
Unaware that Mark Antony had grown silent, too unnerved by her sudden display of weakness, Jirachi glanced at the sky, rephrasing her last thoughts. No, they
will have that Earth. It’s just going to have to wait a little longer.
Despite the conviction, there was still that little thought at the back of her mind that reminded her she didn’t even know if what she was about to do was going to work. Arceus had mentioned it in passing, but his tone had told her that the claim was mostly fueled by the myths humans loved to make about the Legends to emphasize their deity powers.
In between her tumbling thoughts, Jirachi had ordered Mark Antony to hold up the infant, who had now started twitching at the sensation of the Legendary’s power flowing into her weakened limbs. Jirachi lightly touched the baby’s shut eyelids with her fingers and locked gazes with Mark Antony. The twenty-five-year-old did not look away, although he did gain his own melancholy stare; he still had no idea what was making her cry.
/When my body vanishes, get away from here./
The spacer wielder stressed the last words with every fiber of her being. /When my aura grows stronger, those who did this to me will find this place. If you stay, they will kill you./
“You never told me who tried to kill you,” the observant officer shot back. “I don’t like being kept in the dark; who did this to you?”
Jirachi wasn’t sure if the tears in her eyes were new or if they were the ones who had refused to fall. /I once admired and aspired to be like them./
Before Mark Antony could remark on the vague answer, she continued, /Do I have your word that you will leave me once this is done?/
Mark Antony focused his gaze at a piece of glass and nodded with gritted teeth. When he felt Jirachi’s eyes on him, he looked up and sighed, his jaw relaxing and his eyes losing their daggers. “Understood, but,” he added, gaze shadowing as he looked at the ground again, “why do I feel like I need to protect you, even before I knew who you were? What sort of power have you cast on me?”
/Mark Antony, I have cast no spell on you./
She smiled down at him, and the beginnings of a laugh twitched her lips. /Is it so hard to believe that you helped me because I couldn’t help myself?/
“Yes,” he told her, subconsciously rubbing his right hand. Jirachi lightly touched his hand and felt him cringe when her fingers brushed the blood-stained bullet that peeked out from the wound. Her knowledge of human wars was limited, but his darkened stare told her of the danger and betrayal that were always on the forefront of his mind. The Legendary slowly withdrew her hand, the smile wiped off her face.
/I’m going to take over this infant’s body since her soul is leaving as we speak. I’ll be able to recuperate without being detected. I don’t know how long it’ll take or even if it will work, but it is the best option available. Now, Mark Antony,/
she addressed him, /shield your eyes and keep the baby aloft./
Immediately, the silver that was shining in Jirachi’s irises exploded into a brilliance that washed over her. The human looked away, vision blurry with the tears that had sprung into his eyes. In his hands, the baby had grown almost too warm to hold. Jirachi pressed her hand harder against the baby’s shut eyes as first her tassels, then the rest of her body, began to turn into platinum smoke. Mark Antony heard the fluttering of her tassels and wish tags dwindle to be replaced by the sound of the baby’s regular breathing. Her triumphant smile was lost in the fog she had become, and as silently as dawn itself, she settled over the infant’s twitching form.
Mark Antony reopened his eyes and looked at where Jirachi had been floating moments before. His amber eyes only met the twinkling remains of her power. Wordlessly, he brought the sleeping infant to his chest, his hand tingling as the warmth in her began to settle. Her hair and scarred skin glowed like the faintest, yet most beautiful stars above them. The military officer caressed her cut cheek, then stopped. He couldn’t stay here or take the baby (or was it Jirachi now?). Reluctantly, Mark Antony placed her behind an overturned table that miraculously escaped being trampled to pieces. He knelt there for what seemed like forever, just staring at the helpless being that slept in her raggedy blanket.
Finally, Mark Antony got to his feet and began to run back to where he had left Professor Newman.
Jirachi knows what she’s doing,
the mantra was repeated again and again; the thought that Jirachi had only managed to mask her uncertainty well didn’t cross his mind. Only the tales of the mighty Legends of the Regions silently played, keeping him from turning back and scooping up the baby in his arms. Those myths of the Legends moving continents, creating seas, and bringing life into the once desolate planet of Earth had to hold some grain of truth after all he had just witnessed.
“Newman,” he said, jogging to a stop. Mark Antony knelt beside the unconscious man. After a glance at the professor, though, he stopped himself from jumping to his feet. The fresh, gunpowder-coated fingerprints shone as clear as day from the man’s neck. With a barely perceptible turn of his head, he noticed Newman’s Cyndaquil was nowhere in sight.
he cursed, his eyes now lowering into furious slits.
The faint sound of a gun being cocked reached him.
The next thing he knew, a bullet was lodged into his lower back. Mark Antony fell on his side, his spine aflame with pain. He planted his hands and tried to get up, but the crippling sensation of his vertebrae splitting in two forced him back to the ground. His hand reached for the blade on his boot, the sound of running footsteps and the jiggling of weapons coming closer and closer.
Mark Antony grasped the blade of his weapon as someone grabbed him by his hair and jerked his head up. The sensation jarred his injured spine and effectively made him drop his blade. He saw the navy uniform of a Kantonian soldier before the butt of a rifle collided with the side of his head, drawing him into darkness.