Song for this chapter: Lavander Town
from Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow
/Not bad, Mark Antony,/
Our Desperate Hour
came Death’s voice. /Not bad./
Mark Antony groaned loudly, yet his voice sounded far away. When he shifted, his movements were slow, sluggish, and distant, as though he was moving a puppet rather than his own body. Opening his mouth to speak proved to be too much of a strenuous task for his exhausted body, so he instead transformed his snarky words into thoughts.
‘Not bad’ what?
he queried, wishing he could have growled the words. A realization as to how Death could be talking to him when he wasn’t even sure if he was alive was slow in coming, but when it did, a start ran though his motionless body. Feeling a bolt of pain racing through his limbs but unable to vocalize it, he instead thought, How are you talking to me? Telepathy?
/Yes, telepathy, but since you’re currently unconscious, I do not have to be in the area to communicate. I can simply access your mind from wherever I am with a simple thought. It also works when you’re asleep while in a Pokémon’s body./
Death then gained a whimsical tone to his thoughts. /The mind is much more susceptible to the psychic and paranormal world when its guard is down./
Mark Antony could have slapped his forehead at his luck. He settled for directing as much sarcasm to his thoughts as possible. Besides, as Death had said, he was far away and unable to do anything to him, such as clobbering him with his own scythe. Lovely to think that even my dreams will be haunted.
Death was silent in the crevices of Mark Antony’s mind for a heartbeat, possibly wondering why the soul insisted on turning every situation into something unfavorable. /Don’t think of it as haunted. Think of it as a connection that can help you in the most dire of times. Also, you can keep me updated on your mission./
At the mention of his job, Mark Antony became more conscious of his body and the tiredness that reigned over every one of his bones. Again he tried to move his arm, but it simply wouldn’t obey him. When he tried to recall why he was like this, only fuzzy images popped into his mind. The dead Doduo were dancing before him one moment, and then he saw the bottom of the mountain, then houses that made up Lavender Town. As he traveled through the snippets of memories, he felt Ivan’s clammy, shaking hand in his paw the whole time.
I managed to bring Ivan back to the town, I’m guessing,
he told the grim reaper as much as he told himself. And I guess I must have been so tired from before that I just collapsed after it was done.
/It seems that way, and like I praised before, you did a good job utilizing Cubone’s attacks to get Ivan out of there./
Don’t tell me you shifted through my memories,
Mark Antony said at length. Oh how he wished he could speak his words instead of just thinking them! There was no such thing as implied threats in thoughts.
/You actually mentioned you got Ivan out of there with those special moves before you slipped deeper into unconsciousness,/
Death frankly told him, and he seemed to be smiling when he added, /I can’t read someone’s mind, but if I could, I could certainly figure you out better./
My mind is not a place you would like to be in,
the former sergeant told him, though he wasn’t exactly sure if it was supposed to be another jibe at Death or a serious warning. There were times he himself didn’t want to wander too far down his own memory lane. Yes, there were moments of victory he liked to replay in his mind to boost his own ego, but there were also events he would give anything to forget.
Gradually, as Mark Antony was contemplating if his victories outweighed the bad times, he heard voices coming left and right. Some recognition fluttered within him when he caught the Kantonian dialect that made every word guttural and rough to his Johtonian ears. As they became louder and his movements became more pronounced, Mark Antony felt that whatever connection he had with Death was beginning fray and disappear like a dream that was unraveling at the seams. The guardian caught the feeling that the Dusknoir was bidding him farewell when he opened his eyes and looked around drowsily. One of the voices stopped speaking for a moment before it exclaimed, “Oh, Den, you’re awake!”
Ivan picked him up and did a little dance that made Mark Antony grab the boy’s arm in alarm. The spinning and fuzzy world stopped to solidify itself into the small interior of a cabin. The Cubone saw the small hallway that led to the two bedrooms for a split second before he was face to face with one tear-streaked mother and a stony father. If he had been human, Mark Antony would’ve looked down at this Kantonian man. Against Ivan’s chest, he was fully aware of his small body, the exhaustion that still racked his bones, and the fact that his bone club was somewhere on the floor. The man’s emerald gaze was more intense than that of Walker’s, and so Mark Antony couldn’t help but look away. His hurt pride was a persistent stinging in his chest.
“Why did you let my son go over there?” the tall, broad man demanded of the Pokémon. Though his dirty-blonde hair was streaked with white, there were no wrinkles on his skin to ruin the scowl he directed at Mark Antony.
Ivan stepped back when his father, Damien, reached for the Ground-type. “Dad, it wasn’t Den’s fault!” Mark Antony craned his head to catch a look at the thirteen-year-old’s defiant face. His normally fair skin was peppered with dabs of medical ointment, the blood and dirt on his cuts long since washed off. Beneath messy locks of hair, his face was flushed.
“He should have stopped you,” Damien insisted, giving Mark Antony a withering glare.
~ “My job is not to replace the role of the father,” ~
the guardian snapped now that he was out of arm’s reach from the man in the long-sleeved, filthy brown shirt. Knowing Ivan wouldn’t let his father harm a scale on his body, he continued, ~ “Though Heaven forbid you actually keep an eye on your child!” ~
Mark Antony’s tone made the father growl under his breath and make way for his lanky wife. Actually managing to slip Mark Antony from her son’s grasp, Isabella hugged the Pokémon and smiled down at him. Despite the dirt that marked her face and the paleness of her blue, cotton dress, she was beautiful in her aura of gratefulness. Amber eyes shined with new, unshed tears.
“Den, I thank you for keeping Ivan safe.”
Rarely, if ever, thanked, Mark Antony merely nodded his head as the woman’s honey-brown curls covered his face the more she hugged him. She then, however, looked down at him, her smile waning. Isabella shared a look with her husband then gave Mark Antony back to Ivan. The son hugged the Pokémon as both parents walked him back until he almost tripped on a rocking chair.
“What you did, Ivan, was foolish! Inexcusable!” Isabella’s voice climbed a pitch as her eyes filled with angry tears. Ivan flinched and tried to avert his eyes, but his mother’s gaze rooted his own. “What made you think you would be safe, Ivan? What in Mew’s holy name made you think that this was for you to be involved in?”
“Mother, I-!” he began to say. The fair-haired boy snapped his mouth shut when Damien stepped behind his spouse. His expression was that of cold granite. Though he didn’t say anything, his mere presence intimidated and willed Isabella to go on, despite the tears that freely ran down her cheeks. They felt hot and angry, and the woman hated it. She never wanted to address her son in such a way, but seeing Walker’s bruised, bloodied, and unconscious form and knowing that Ivan could have easily been the same, every motherly instinct boiled to the top.
“You are not. To leave. This house,” Isabella shakily continued. “I’ll be running the shop until this mess is sorted out.”
Ivan bit his lip because really, what could he say? He let himself fall on the rocking chair with a bowed head of defeat. His mother seemed to be on the verge of a breakdown while his father was on the verge of locking him in their wooden shed outside. Ivan felt his mother run calloused fingers through his locks of hair, heard her words of comfort. He answered something back, but the moment the words left his lips, he forgot what he had said. His mind was on Walker’s prone form lying on a bed in the local physician’s house. Would he make it through the night? Nobody was sure.
~ “Hey, you’re not listening!” ~
Mark Antony snapped at a dazed Ivan. He had a sinking feeling that his charge’s mind was not on the safety of his well-being.
After a moment of more words he didn’t listen to, Ivan lifted his head and asked in a voice void of all his past vibrato and confidence, “Is Mr. Walker alright?”
Isabella and Damien halted in mid-scold. His mother began to caress his cheek and form more comforting words, but Ivan knew all he needed to know. He stood up and walked towards the hallway behind him, Mark Antony still in tow.
“I’ll be going to bed.”
The Cubone looked up with suspicious, narrowed eyes.
He’s planning something,
he mused as Ivan silently opened the door to his room.
When he was placed on a bundle of rags on the floor- Den’s bed, he sorely realized- Mark Antony leaned back on the wall, hearing Ivan sit on his bed. A flare of orange light was seen from the corner of his eye, and he turned around with a start. Ivan held a bright ember in a gloved hand, his small smile illuminated like a Jack-o-Lantern’s. As Mark Antony wondered when the boy had snatched an ember from the fireplace pit the town-owned Arcanine filled, Ivan used it to light the candlestick on his bedside table.
“Good thing an Arcanine’s fire can burn for days,” Ivan said to him, a harsh frown just barely visible on his face. He looked out the window beside him. “With the mayor’s Arcanine ill, he hasn’t be able to give embers to the families in Lavender for a week. In a couple of days, we won’t be able to cook our food…”
Placing the ember and the Tauros-hide glove next to the candlestick, Ivan promptly laid back on his bed and watched as the candle’s flame tried to throw its feeble light towards the wooden chest at the front of his bed. It only succeeded in illuminating the window’s glass.
There was an hour of silence in where Ivan looked at the ceiling, his arms behind his head. Mark Antony crossed his arms and watched his charge as though the human would jump through the window if he dared blink. More than once the guardian nodded off. Every time he snapped his head upright, his skull helmet banged the wall and made him jump. Ivan looked on in amusement, but his green eyes were clouded with a thought he kept turning over in his mind.
You’re going to do something the moment I fall asleep,
Mark Antony mentally accused. His eyes were getting harder and harder to open.
“My parents should be asleep now.” Mark Antony blinked the sleepiness away a couple of times before looking up at Ivan. The Kantonian’s fair hair seemed white when Ivan leaned closer to his Pokémon. The vision reminded the soul that the boy was getting closer and closer to dying. Sitting up, the sleepiness evaporated. Again, Mark Antony had to wonder if he was starting to care about Ivan. It seemed the line that separated “caring” and “guardian duty” had begun to blur.
“Nothing will wake them up but the morning sun now,” Ivan told him, seemingly pleased by this. He sat back and rested his arms on his knees. “I’ve been thinking. We can’t do this by ourselves, Den. We need to tell the city council. If the city knows, something we’ll get done.”
~ “What can you do against something that you can’t see?” ~
Mark Antony wondered aloud. Here was Ivan, possibly the only person in Lavender that could vaguely see the source of all this trouble, and he was helpless. What would a bunch of normal humans do?
Ivan sensed Mark Antony’s doubt and lowered his eyes to his hands. “I don’t know what they’ll do, but they’ll do something,” he assured himself. That mysterious, thoughtful light that had been dancing in his eyes for the past hour returned. “There is a fortune teller on the outskirts of town, towards Celadon. She might know more about this than anybody else.”
That’s his answer? A fortune teller?
Mark Antony resisted the urge to put a paw to his shaking head. Have we really grown this desperate.
“I don’t want to visit her either,” Ivan admitted as he wrung his hands nervously. “She lives out there for a reason. They she curses anybody that dares to touch her crops.” He bit his lip and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he looked out the window. “Tomorrow I’ll go to the town hall and explain what happened. I know I’m not to leave the house, but if I can convince Mother, she might come.”
~ “Adults are hard to sway from their beliefs,” ~
the Cubone warned, though he knew that even if Ivan understood him, he wouldn’t have listened. The kid seemed to be the kind that believed adults could fix everything with minimal effort. Ivan was obviously ignorant of the Region War going on in Johto and in the shores of Kanto’s islands.
After Ivan snuffed out the candle’s flame and changed to go to bed. Mark Antony finally decided it was safe to fall asleep. He had never been religious, but he prayed to any deity that was willing to hear that Death would not invade his dreams. When enough prayers (and threats) were made, he curled into a ball and promptly fell asleep.
His dreams were Death-less and filled only with childhood memories Ivan’s presence had spawned. Though his childhood wasn’t the happiest around, his ten-year-old dream self smiled as he sparred with his father. They traded staff hits and words he didn’t catch. Mark Antony would repeatedly get backed up into a wall or a corner that blended with the background.
Something was off.
Mark Antony quickly blocked a hit, but when staff met staff, a hair-raising ting!
reached his ears. Again and again it rung until he finally dropped his staff and whirled around.
He started awake and uncurled himself to sit up and look around with bleary eyes. Mark Antony, back as a Cubone, spotted a bright orange object dancing before him. With drunken steps, he stepped closer and saw the still-lit ember repeatedly hitting the window with the ringing sound that had invaded his dreams. Mark Antony stood there, watching the spectacle, until it clicked that this wasn’t normal. The fog lifted from his mind and made him scramble on top of Ivan’s bed to check it out.
“Den, wha?” the boy mumbled, refusing to open his eyes. Ivan opted to try and swat away the Ground-type, but Mark Antony was already on the bedside table..
~ “Curious…” ~
the guardian said beneath his breath. The ember bounced against his palm when he put a paw in its path. He grabbed it, and the lit coal struggled like a soul trying to fly back into its body. Upon releasing it, it resumed its redundant bumping. ~ “Curiouser.” ~
“Is that the Ember?” Ivan sat up and leaned forward. Fingers were tentatively held near the lit coal, but Mark Antony was more interested in what laid outside the window. Paws on the pane of glass, he peered out and saw tiny speckles of light floating from opened windows, chimney chutes, and the cracks beneath doors.
Ivan turned towards the strange sight. His eyes were wide and filled with the light of the floating ember. “Den, I see the shadows carrying them!” he exclaimed, nose pressed against the glass; Mark Antony had to grab hold of the flying coal so it didn’t set Ivan’s hair on fire. The boy tilted his head in thought. “They actually look a bit like Pokémon.”
I think his sixth sense is getting stronger,
Mark Antony noted. He frowned, looking at the ember’s burning core. Would this prove to be good or bad?
“Hey, Den.” Ivan’s voice made him look up, and Mark Antony practically face palmed. Those green eyes held the light of adventure and determination. “Let go of the ember. I’ll open the window and see where all of them are going.”
~ “Arceus help me,” ~
the guardian angel muttered, but he obeyed and let go. Standing there, worrying, wasn’t going to do a thing. Besides, Mark Antony knew full well that Ivan would take off without him if he did not.
The window was lifted open. Lazily, the ember floated off into the night to join with the stream of burning coals that trailed from the houses. The single line they formed marched on into the darkness. Ivan wasted no time in ridding himself of his bed covers to climb through the window as silently as a Meowth. By the time Mark Antony retrieved his bone club from the floor and climbed out, his charge was creeping closer and closer to the embers, eyes glazed over. He grabbed the boy by a pajama leg before his outstretched hand came any closer. Ivan rocked back on the balls of his bare feet and blinked himself back into reality. He then stepped away, his face pale.
“What did I just do?” he asked, shaking his fair hair with his hands as though to rid himself of any other stupid thoughts. Ivan stared back at the bobbing embers before averting his gaze to the ground. “It’s like I can’t look directly at them without going mad!”
Mark Antony raised his head, but he couldn’t see a thing around those floating coals. Still, the oppressive feeling of dread clung to his scales. Ivan was no fool. He stayed away from the embers and close to his Pokémon.
“Come on, we have to find out where these things are taking the embers to.” Ivan ran ahead, his eyes always focused on a spot above the moving line of coals. Mark Antony followed suit, his own gaze always flicking warily over his shoulder. No more embers were being harvested from the houses. The sense of foreboding grew stronger until it was an unseen force pressing over his chest. Pokémon were more attuned to the supernatural, he had concluded. If he was feeling the ghosts’ presence now, things were not looking up.
“Den!” The Cubone faced forward and saw Ivan’s shell-shocked figure illuminated by the standstill embers in front of him. No, they weren’t still; they were being arranged around one of the houses by an invisible hand. Mark Antony ran faster just as Ivan frantically called him again. “Den!”
Skidding to a halt, Mark Antony looked upon the ring of coals, his fangs bared. That horrible feeling in his stomach intensified. He could imagine those ghosts grinning at him, taunting him. There was going to be nothing more satisfying than to wipe those smirks off their faces.
He ran up and send the coals flying with a sweep of his club. Mark Antony raised his club again, but he froze in his tracks: an unseen hand held him by the throat.
~ “Let… go!” ~
Mark Antony growled. Before he could get another word out, he was tossed aside.
Mark Antony hit the ground, the wind knocked out of him. He heard Ivan’s alarmed call somewhere through the ringing in his ears. The Cubone searched blindly for his club as the scent of smoke began to appear in the air. Upon hearing running footsteps, he straightened and looked around. His eyes widened. ~ “No! Ivan!” ~
That same hand gripped Ivan’s forearm. The human glanced down and met with scarlet orbs. His breath hitched in his throat, yet he still struggled against the iron hold. Blood trickled down as the all-too-real claws dug into him and ripped his skin like paper. Ivan crumpled to the ground with a heart-wrenching yell. Otherworldly fingers tightened and began to lift him into the air. Unlike Mark Antony, the terrified boy could not say a word.
Faster than he thought possible, Mark Antony rammed himself into Ivan’s side.