Mark Antony clamped his mouth shut as an electric-blue aura rolled up and down his body. Celebi picked him up into the air with one angered thought. She snarled, her beautiful features contorted into an infuriated mess. The Johto Legend watched him like a bird of prey, waiting for him to utter one more insult about Mew so that she had enough of an excuse to obliterate his soul from the from face of all three worlds.
“Let him be your assistant then.”
Death, Celebi, and Mark Antony turned to Mew. The feline’s brow was twitching in annoyance, and his tail slashed the air with audible snaps. “Let this poor excuse of a soul rule Purgatory alongside you. Let him forever endure a life of hard labor, death, despair, and starless skies. His soul reflects that desolate world of yours perfectly. Obliteration is too much mercy for the likes of him.
“Mark Antony Colfax,” Mew continued, expecting Mark Antony’s silver eyes and the growing glimmer of fear he could see within them. “By putting you in Death’s hands, humanity will forever be rid of a plague like you. Nevermore will they be scourged by your existence.”
The soul was dropped to the floor with a grunt from the time traveler.
“That settles it then,” Mew announced with a clap of his paws, his smile toxic. “Now leave, Death. I’m sure your duties don’t allow for more conversation. Besides, more pressing matters are to be attended here before Arceus returns.”
Mark Antony picked himself up and turned his back on the proud Mew and murderous Celebi. “Get me a freaking scarf or something already,” he muttered to Death with chattering teeth. “You, this place, and those gods over there are going to send me into shock soon.”
“I’ll file a complaint,” Death laughed, which caused his charge to do a double take. Mark Antony sighed; he was just reminded of Edward’s short chuckles. The corporal had been the only one who could get away with laughing at him in such a teasing manner.
Noticing the past tense in his thoughts, the auburn-haired man closed his eyes and shook his head. He and Death were then engulfed in a cloud of smoke and luminous emerald flames. When nothing of them remained, Mew and Celebi flew towards the top of one of the pillars.
“What will we do with you?” Mew addressed the pillar’s top.
Jirachi’s body materialized on the platform. Brother and sister looked at each other, nodded, and put their hands out above the cold corpse. It started glowing white, and the aura then fluctuated between jade and rose pink. Little by little, Mew and Celebi were erasing any trace that their powers were Jirachi’s undoing.
Death and Mark Antony appeared inside the tallest tower in Purgatory. Mark Antony blinked at the bleakness, wondering if the surroundings would forever change in intensity. Massaging his eyes, he leaned back and almost fell through the window that overlooked the small village below. Taking a peek behind him, Mark Antony bit his lip and edged away, settling for clasping his hands behind him and watching as Death wandered deeper into the room.
From the darkness came flying something long and thin. With honed reflexes, Mark Antony reached out and caught the ebony handle. He winced slightly; whatever he had caught sent a paralyzing shiver down his spine. Once he shook away most of the chills, he inspected the scythe with morbid interest. He traced the three-foot blade that curved in an arc with a finger that didn’t bleed and then probed the ivory skull at the tip with an inquisitive, platinum gaze. The dark orb nestled inside stared back from behind the empty eye sockets.
“What’s t-this?” he asked, though he was already piecing two and two together. The slight stutter was a result of the chill that had escalated from his hands to his jaw.
“That’s your instrument now. Instead of taking lives, you’ll be guarding them.” Ignoring Mark Antony’s perplexed look, Death then said with a smirk intertwined in his words, “And you need a new uniform. You no longer take sides. You will protect every life I assign you equally.”
The soul opened his mouth to protest, but the words were whisked away by the smoke that suddenly soared around him. It was gone before he realized that his body, or soul, rather, no longer needed to cough. Waving away the puffs of smoke, Mark Antony stepped back and examine himself with distaste. What had been left of his Johto uniform was replaced with an ash-gray, swallow-tailed coat that was buttoned over his vest and dress pants of an inky black. His boots blended in with the gray stones at his feet, no matter which way he turned. The only thing of his ensemble that didn’t seem grim was the brown leather shoulder strap that went across his chest and over his back. A feel behind him told him there was a sheath of some kind to insert his newly-obtained scythe.
There was one other thing he noticed about his uniform.
“Do you find this amusing?” Mark Antony dully asked with a tug at the olive-green scarf that was wrapped around his neck and tied by a golden clip.
“Do you find that warm?” the Dusknoir countered with a nod to the scarf.
Mark Antony only grunted because he was, in fact, free from his shivers.
“The scarf allows your soul to ignore my aura and the scythe’s.”
“Okay, but why the outfit?”
Death shrugged. “With these clothes, you show no allegiance to a region or group of people. You are simply a servant of Death, a guardian angel that protects every life assigned to you with no prejudice or bias.”
“Yeah, that,” Mark Antony stopped him. Slamming the butt of the scythe’s handle down, he leaned on it and glared. “I thought I was going to help you gather souls like me and bring them here. Isn’t that what you do, what you want me to use this scythe for?”
The ghoul met his glare with a serious, leveled gaze. “I and my Dusclops guards can handle bringing the souls here. However, there are humans on Earth who are not ready to die. As tame as space and time are, as carefully watched as the time stream is, there are those who die before their time. Why? Not even the gods fully understand the universe. This is why I need an assistant that can watch over these humans and protect them until the danger has passed. I need someone with good judgment, courage, and wit.”
“Is it really necessary to put so much effort into saving a handful of people?” the new assistant asked, not totally convinced.
“Not doing so will cause unforeseen futures. Their futures might potentially conflict with someone else’s, causing rips in time.” Death inwardly smiled when Mark Antony’s already pale face morphed into a fearful expression.
supposed to prevent this?” he asked skeptically.
“You did prevent Jirachi’s death, after all.”
Mark Antony’s raised eyebrows snapped down to form a suspicious glare. “How do you know about that?”
Death put a massive hand up to calm him. “The moment Jirachi fell to Earth, I began to keep an eye on her, though I should have done so immediately after our conversation.” There were undertones of guilt in his words. “That’s when I noticed you and your potential.”
The soul absently nodded, his eyes troubled and his mind too preoccupied to ask what Jirachi had been doing in Purgatory. As much as he disliked showing he was unsure on something, he asked, “Did I really save Jirachi?”
Death mentally frowned and decided to word his words carefully. “By hiding herself inside a human, she’ll be able to regain her power over time. How long that will take, only Jirachi knows. Now,” he announced loudly when he saw Mark Antony was losing focus, “training starts now.”
“Training?” Mark Antony exclaimed, his solemn stature replaced by his usual stubborn self. He eyed the collecting slivers of smoke in Death’s hand with a frown. “You haven’t fully explained what I’m supposed to do.”
The Dusknoir gave his newly-created scythe an experimental swing. “Then we should get started, shouldn’t we?”
“Right,” was the miffed response he got. Mark Antony straightened and took hold of his scythe; Death floated over and righted his own.
Before the phantom could begin speaking, however, Mark Antony whirled towards him, remembering one of his questions from before. “I have to ask, though. How can I understand what you Pokémon are saying?”
Death gave him a look equivalent to a raised eyebrow but answered all the same. “Souls are more attuned to other souls and their auras. The Legendary Pokémon and ethereal beings such as myself and my Dusclops guards have auras that are easily read by souls due to their sheer power. That is why you can understand us.”
“What about normal Pokémon?”
Death tilted his head in thought. “Though I’ve never witnessed this myself, I would assume a soul could understand a Pokémon better than a human. However, it would not be enough to understand their every word.”
Mark Antony cocked his own head. “Interesting,” he trailed off with furrowed brows.
“Can we start now?” interrupted the grim reaper.
Silver eyes were raised, and Mark Antony straightened. “Yes, we can start.”
Death gave him the same look as before and continued.
“To protect the humans you are assigned to, you’re going to temporarily take the soul of a Pokémon with your scythe and store it in the orb inside the skull.” Death touched the macabre object on his scythe, and Mark Antony did the same with his own. “You then inhabit the Pokémon’s body and use its skills to protect the human.”
Fingers were retracted from the skull in surprise. “I’m going to become
“In a way,” Death admitted, the face on his stomach grinning from ear to metaphorical ear. “After your mission is done, I’ll retrieve you and return the Pokémon’s soul into its body. If done correctly, the soul will suffer no ill-effects.”
“Do I have to utter some sort of incantation or something?” Mark Antony guessed.
“No, nothing that complicated,” Death said with a shake of his head. “Your scythe will know how to extract and store the soul. All you have to do is create the perfect opening for the soul to escape the body without harming either one. You cannot falter or be unsure.”
“Sounds just like the army,” the student mused with a melancholy smirk. Automatically, he gripped the scythe tighter and slipped into a fighting stance his father had drilled into him since he was four; the scythe was the worn staff his father had forced into his hands.
The pitter-patter of feet made him look into the darkness of the room. Mark Antony saw big sapphire eyes staring into his own before the Pokémon’s ruby body emerged into the light. The Ledian cocked his head, two black antennae twitching in interest. From his four spindly arms, fists were raised in greeting.
“A Ledian,” Mark Antony marveled. He stepped closer and couldn’t help but expect the Bug-type from his beige belly to the four black spots that adorned his closed wings. Death smiled; he guessed the twenty-five-year-old was either shocked that a living, breathing Pokémon was in Purgatory or feeling the first bouts of homesickness. Ledian stood there, calm, if a bit amused.
“This Pokémon was more than happy enough to help me in your training,” he told the soul.
Mark Antony turned from where he was crouched in front of the ladybug. “Really? What’s in it for him?”
Death glanced out the window. “I promised he could see his master one last time.”
Silver eyes were lowered. “Oh.”
“Lei Lei!” Ledian comforted him with a pat on the shoulder.
Death came to them and put a hand on Mark Antony’s other shoulder. “He’s right. This is a training session in where sad times are not to be contemplated. Stand up and take your scythe in hand.” Once Mark Antony did so, and Ledian stepped away a couple of paces to allow for some room, he continued, “Clear your mind and hold your scythe above your head. Then give Ledian once downward slice.”
Death floated back and raised his own scythe above his head. Mark Antony had to rein his instincts in to avoid jumping back when the sickle came flying down in a graceful arc. Mark Antony raised his scythe as Death leaned against his.
“Just like that?” the sergeant questioned, the sickle shining above his head. Ledian looked on with a determined frown, his body stock still.
“Just like that.”
Mark Antony returned his gaze to the Pokémon. Death had said that the scythe knew what to do, that all he
had to do was swing, but the scythe didn’t feel any different. A sigh mounted his lips and left with the words, “You better know what you’re doing.”
The menacing sickle came down and passed through Ledian’s body like the ghost that had crafted it. Ledian collapsed on the floor and laid motionless at Mark Antony’s feet. Raising his scythe, the assistant saw a glowing blue sliver of light wrapped around the blade. It pulsated and tightened around the metal like a child hugging its favorite blanket. By the light of the sliver, Ledian’s prone, lifeless form was illuminated.
“That’s the basic form of a soul,” Death told his mesmerized charge. “When not brought here or to Heaven, this is how they look. They can only do one thing: struggle to get back to their body. Pick the soul off, and hold it in front of the skull.”
“I can’t help but think that this is some form of disrespect,” he sarcastically quipped as he picked the soul off with his fingers like he would a piece of string. Mark Antony blinked then stumbled forward when the soul gave one tremendous tug towards Ledian. “Whoa! Hold on there!” He turned to Death, who looked like he was inwardly chuckling at his trouble. “How in Arceus’ name do I hold on to it?!”
“Just tighten your hold, and tell it to stay still. Remember, you are now in control, and the soul will know that.”
“Stay still,” Mark Antony firmly told the wiggling mass in his grasp. He gave an opposing tug, and the soul reluctantly stilled. Mark Antony held it up to his face then in front of the skull. It slithered through one of the eye sockets and settled inside the orb. “Now why couldn’t my soldiers be as loyal as you are?” he asked as he examined the orb and the cerulean brilliance that swirled within it.
Another tug pulled at his body, but this one had wrapped around his waist and thrust him backwards towards Ledian’s body. Mark Antony only saw Death easily catch the scythe he dropped in surprise before the darkness that had started to creep around the edges of his vision enveloped him.