Finality and Immortality
Ivan closed his eyes, and breathed in a deep sigh of relief. He never thought he would be so glad to simply lie on his bed. Putting a hand to his forehead, he listened to his own ragged breathing and the chatter of his parents in the living room. If it wasn’t for his father’s quick thinking, he would still be behind that house, wondering what to do. Damien had dragged Ivan home so swiftly that he was unable to speak until his mother locked the door behind them.
“The outside is too dangerous for you right now,” his father had told him. Damien thought back to the townspeople, and he scowled. The grip on his son’s shoulder had tightened. “Stay here.”
And he was right. Ivan could hear the closing and opening of house doors outside as their occupants rushed back and forth, not knowing if they should set out to go and find him or stay and protect their families from whatever they thought Ivan had brought into Lavender Town. Despite the fact that all the windows in the house were covered with furniture or sheets, Ivan grew nervous. Fear made people do irrational things. What if they decided to attack his parents to get to him? What if they informed authorities in Saffron that there was someone that needed to be carted off to their mental wards?
A paw was placed on the shaking hand on his forehead. Ivan opened his eyes and met those of Mark Antony. The Cubone tilted his head, red eyes holding an irate glint to them. The boy quirked an eyebrow in question.
“What?” Ivan asked, but it was obvious from the exasperated look he was given that he knew exactly ‘what.’ With a frown of his own, Ivan replied, “You know they’re going to do something. They know I’m here, Den. They might be superstitions, but they are not stupid.”
Mark Antony gave a roll of his eyes that said, ‘What’s the difference?’ and plumped himself back on the bed. Obviously he couldn’t talk Ivan into abandoning these fears and taking the next, and hopefully final, step to figuring out what to do about these spirits. Not only was the Pokémon language unintelligible to human ears, but Ivan wouldn’t worry his parents again; the guilt was freshly written on his face.
Mark Antony could have yelled out in frustration.
Did I feel guilty about leaving my family to join the army?
he asked mentally, arms stubbornly crossed in front of him and narrowed eyes boring into Ivan. Yes, I did, but did I still enlist? Yes, I did, and I was merely two years older than him.
The guardian truly tried to ignore the part of his mind — which sounded eerily like Death — that chastised him for thinking Ivan was anything like his childhood self. Ivan was never trained by his father since he was old enough to understand that all boys needed to protect their region. All he had ever known as a child was the unconditional love parents have for their children.
Mark Antony reasoned, we can’t wait until Ivan feels better about leaving his parents.
~ “Look.” ~
The Pokémon stood up and pointed his club at his charge, then at the dresser that covered his window. ~ “You need to act. Now.” ~
Ivan placed his head in his hands. “Den, I can’t just walk out. Not again.” The kid lowered his voice. “I don’t think my mother can handle another escapade from me.”
The bone club was lowered. That’s true.
Mark Antony thought back to the crying mess Isabella had been reduced to when she wrapped her arms around her son. No doubt that the giant, wooden dresser in front of the window was meant to keep people in as well as out. Thinking back to all of his own escapades as a kid, Mark Antony suspected mothers were always one step ahead of their children.
But even the most astute of parents can be beaten by the best of strategists,
he concluded, nodding firmly to himself.
Before he could concoct a plan, a wave of exhaustion hit him so hard that he swayed and threatened to hit the covers of the bed. He had pushed this body too hard, and it was now time to rest. Mark Antony growled (much to Ivan’s confusion), but he understood the necessity to of sleep. Putting his weapon to the side, he curled himself up and closed his eyes. If somebody decided to uproot the door or blast away the dresser to get to Ivan, he would wake up. Until then, it was time to rest.
“Taking a nap?” Ivan asked. When he received a grunt in response, he chuckled and replied, “Good idea. I’m tired myself.”
When he felt the bed shift and creak, Mark Antony inwardly smirked. Good. With Ivan asleep, I won’t have to worry about him wandering off.
And so they fell asleep, both of them exhausted yet unable to fully surrender themselves to slumber. Within their subconscious, anxiousness and worry swirled. Mark Antony felt it, but throughout the years, he had learned to shrug it off.
It wasn’t until he felt a heavy hand shaking him that he awoke. Mark Antony sat up and immediately reached for his club. The hand stopped him with a firm hold and a ‘shush.’ The Cubone froze and peered at the hulking figure before him. By the light of the lit candle he brought on a platter, Damien’s features flickered into existence. The shadows of the flame aged his face, enhanced the worry that lined each line. Yet his eyes shone bright with something akin to determination.
“Quiet,” the man told him. Damien stood still and listened to the silence of the house. “It is time for you and Ivan to go.”
Mark Antony narrowed his eyes in question then made out a small form at the edge of the candle’s light. Ivan walked up to them, his face taut with the same worry his father wore. His bed clothes were gone and replaced by the attire he had worn that day.
“Den, we’re going to the library,” Ivan whispered, his voice absent of the determination he had when he mentioned the place earlier. “We’re going to sneak in tonight.”
Damien caught the uncertainty in Mark Antony’s stare and gravely nodded his head. “It has to be tonight. The common folk are not allowed to enter the library, and with what happened today,” he turned to face Ivan, “I fear your mother won’t let you out of her sight.”
Ivan nodded, defeated. With a sigh, he sat back on his bed. “I know,” he admitted. “I know, but is it safe to do this at night?”
Mark Antony almost yelled out. Of course it is not safe! We’ll be unable to see! We’ll be in unfamiliar territory!
While Mark Antony silently fumed, Damien shook his head. “I don’t know, but it’ll be safer than during the day.”
Ivan suddenly shot his head up, unable to keep quiet any longer. “Father, why are you doing this? Why are you helping me? I thought you wanted to keep me in, like Mother.” Catching himself, the boy lowered his head and continued in an almost inaudible whisper, “I thought you would never approve of me sneaking out like this and making Mother worry.”
Mark Antony scooted out of the way as the man sat down beside his son. “I do not approve of worrying your mother, but I realize that you know more about what is going on than anybody else. You would have snuck out once you were ready.” To this, Ivan looked away. “So if you were meant to solve this grand mystery, let it be with the blessing and advice of your father.”
“Yes,” Ivan mumbled, still not meeting Damien’s eyes. Did he deserve the blessing of his father? He had already failed once, and the library idea was just a half-planned scheme he had thought of on the fly.
Mark Antony, meanwhile, was just shaking his head at the idea of sneaking out. Number one, his night vision was poorer than that of a human’s. On top of that, they had no idea how to sneak around Lavender Town during the night. With the sun gone, there were more shadows, more confusing twists and turns.
Then there were the spirits that roamed the town.
But Damien apparently thought that the humans that inhabited Lavender Town were more dangerous.
“Ivan, get going,” the father urged. Leaning over the top of the wooden dresser, he checked the deserted trail outside. When he turned back around, he wasted no time in handing Ivan his lit candle and slowly inching the dresser towards the wall. Ivan sat there, flabbergasted, before enough of his senses came back for him to stand and try to convince his father that this wasn’t such a good idea.
He was halted by Damien’s sudden words.
“Whatever happens, I will never allow them to take you away from your mother and I.” The dresser ceased moving, but Damien’s head was still bowed. “You don’t have to fear that, and Den will protect you from what I cannot.”
“Father, I don’t know if I’ll be coming back tonight, or in the morning.” Ivan fidgeted, noting how final and grim his words sounded. “I don’t know how long it’ll take. If it’s morning and I come back…”
“Then don’t come back,” Damien simply said. He continued to silently push the dresser. “Rest assured I will come looking for you, wherever you are.”
Ivan’s small smile was lit up by the candle’s flame. Mark Antony looked away, unable to wonder, once again, if his father knew he was dead. He knew he shouldn’t have been thinking of such things at a time like this, but the question was so persistent (and the dream from the night before still so vivid). Maybe he should ask Death if there was a way to find out.
As Ivan picked him up and proceeded to quietly unlatch the window, Mark Antony decided to do just that once this mission was done. Death could be annoying, but if he didn’t know, it would eat him from the inside.
An eternity without knowing… Mark Antony couldn’t think of anything worse.
“Den, that’s the fourth shadow you warned me about!” Ivan exasperatedly told the Pokémon in his arms.
Mark Antony crossed his arms. He hated to admit it, but it was
his fourth false alarm in ten minutes. Honestly, could Ivan blame him? He lacked the boy’s growing sixth sense and normal eyesight. Since it was night, he assumed the ghosts would prowl and try to sneak up on them. Apparently that wasn’t so. Ivan, who always seemed to be on edge, didn’t shiver or felt the need to look over his shoulder. Unlike the guardian, he knew
there was no danger.
While the boy was delighted about it, Mark Antony was not. The ghouls’ absence was as unnerving as their presence.
After many twists and turns, they met with the geostone-carved library. It was just as impressive as city hall but definitely less imposing. The pillars arched upward to meet with the dome ceiling and create the illusion of onyx and ivory guardian angels. The walls radiated safety and knowledge, and the small flight of stairs was inviting.
However, they weren’t going in that way. A normal civilian and his Pokémon would have to sneak in.
Mark Antony was let down, and with a nod from Ivan, they both silently bounded to either side of the building. As they searched for a way in, they found no guards. In fact, there were no signs of life to be seen. Though inviting as the library was, there were no trees, flowers, or gardens. Through the darkness, Mark Antony made out only dead grass trampled one too many times.
Were the people in this town so cowardly that they left the only thing worthwhile in this town unprotected? Or did they think this place was much too sacred to be invaded by ghosts? Whatever the case was, it meant this was his and Ivan’s lucky break.
Or that’s what he thought. Mark Antony stopped to catch his breath for the third time There were no windows except for the rows of stained glass ten feet above their heads. Not a crack marred the walls, so breaking in the obvious way was also out. He joined back with Ivan at the front and was met with a sad shake of the boy’s head. There was nothing on his side either.
“What if I throw you,” Ivan began to think aloud, “and you destroy the window, and somehow you-”
He felt Mark Antony’s murderous glare. Ivan raised his hands up in defense, suddenly wary. “I get it! Bad idea! Sorry.”
Mark Antony just grunted and crossed his arms. He’d be damned if they left now after risking their necks to get out, but what could they do? He stood in the shadows as Ivan tried to open the front door, hoping that at least they could go in that way. Much to his chagrin, it was locked, and he joined his Pokémon in the shadows. They stood there for a couple of minutes until Mark Antony decided that he would circle the building for something he could have missed.
As he did so, he felt a tingling sensation run up and down his spine. The assistant froze and looked around. When he spotted the figure of a canine sauntering their way, he realized this was the feeling of a Pokémon sensing another close by. Mark Antony gasped in awe. Every Arcanine he had ever seen had been under the Kantonian army’s control. They were ruthless, savage creatures beyond the act of thinking for themselves.
This one was… there wasn’t a word for it. For the first time, he saw an Arcanine’s grace and beauty.
The orange dog stopped when he spotted Ivan and Mark Antony. The yellow fur that surrounded his head like a mane prickled in suspicion. Ivan saw the rest of the Pokémon’s black-striped fur rise and took a step back. Mark Antony, however, saw an opportunity and walked over.
~ “You are not supposed to be here.” ~
The Cubone’s eyes widened slightly when he understood the Arcanine, but the surprise was otherwise nicely hidden. Despite the baring of sharp fangs, Mark Antony continued his way. Ivan watched warily from the shadows.
~ “Look,” ~
he began, deciding to go straight to the point, ~ “we know we’re not supposed to be here, but we’re in need of your help.” ~
The Arcanine, “Terrence” as the mayor nicknamed him, straightened, staring the small Pokémon down. Mark Antony stood his ground and looked up into the dog’s eyes. Terrence met that defiant stare and finally looked away with a sniff, his claws digging into the hard earth.
~”You’re a stubborn one. And foolish to show your face. Isn’t your friend the one who caused the ruckus in the square earlier today?” ~
~ “You’re correct, but that chaos was well intended. There truly are ghouls in this town.” ~
Mark Antony narrowed his eyes. ~ “Do not lie to me and say you haven’t felt them.” ~
Terrence’s snout broke into a toothy grin. ~ “You are not as naïve as I thought. Yes, I can feel them. Ever since that mysterious illness has befallen me, I knew they were real.” ~
Mark Antony raised an eyebrow. Recalling something Ivan had said the night before, he prodded, ~ “The mysterious illness that prevented you from delivering your embers to the homes in Lavender Town?” ~
~ “The strength to move was gone. My powers of fire were weakened too much for me to even make a spark.” ~
Terrence growled deep in his throat. He didn’t even seem to see Mark Antony anymore. ~ “I am not ignorant. I knew this ailment was not a normal one.” ~
When the Fire-type just kept on glowering at the floor, Mark Antony sighed. This dog was obviously self-centered, but they needed help. Sucking it up, he continued, ~ “Exactly. Ivan is on the right track in figuring out how to get rid of these ghouls, but we need to enter the library. Obviously, the library needs embers to keep it warm. How do you get in?” ~
Terrence broke from his trance and looked at the Ground-type Pokémon. ~ “So he is? Finally! Someone who is finally doing something about it.” ~
~ “So will you help?” ~
~ “Of course. We’ll use the entrance on the roof. Just hop on.” ~
Without warning, Terrence grabbed Mark Antony by the loose skin on the back of his neck and threw him over his shoulder. The soul-turned-Pokémon grabbed on to the dog’s fur, biting down on the inside of his cheek to keep himself from yelling. Still, that didn’t stop Mark Antony from glaring daggers into the back of Terrence’s head.
Ivan had yelped upon seeing his friend grabbed and thrown like a rag doll. When Mark Antony didn’t yell or move, the boy approached the pair. “Den…? What’s going on?”
All he got for an answer was a beckoning paw. Ivan got closer and hesitantly put a hand on Terrence’s furry head. The Arcanine nodded in reassurance.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Den.”
Mark Antony just snorted and waved a paw again.
The moment Ivan mounted the fire beast, Terrence gave a great leap. Ivan yelled and held on to the dog’s mane while Mark Antony steeled his nerves and watched the ground leave them. Terrence landed easily and soundlessly on the roof’s edge, but that couldn’t be said for Ivan. His ragged breaths tore the silence around them. With one hand on his pounding heart, he slipped off the Arcanine as fast as he could. Ivan then scrambled back on when the domed roof threatened to send him fifteen feet down back to the ground.
Mark Antony grinned; since Ivan had lost his breath, he had none left to scold him for not warning him. He leaned in to Terrence’s ear.
~ “So where to?” ~
he asked, one eye on the canine and the other trained on Ivan, who had sharply turned way when he saw how far up they were.
~ “Over here,” ~
Terrence told him. He trotted over to a small tunnel carved into the geostone dome.
Ivan bent down as they entered the winding entrance. Immediately, a chill went through his body. The walls brushed against his arms, and they were cold, colder than he thought stone could possibly be. At the same time, it was hard to breathe. Ivan closed his eyes and concentrated on nothing else but the air that passed through his lungs. He felt Mark Antony’s paw on his hand and relaxed a bit.
~ “Terrence,” ~
Mark Antony began to probe, ~ “are there any people inside at this time?” ~
Terrence shook his huge head. ~ “No. They believe I am all the protection this place needs.” ~
~ “They believed that even when you were ill?” ~
~ “Humans are not very smart, are they?” ~
Mark Antony muttered an agreement, but he narrowed his eyes. At the same time, he felt a part of himself quiver in sadness.
Ivan soon felt a rush of warm air, and when he stretched a hand out, the cold stone walls were gone. Snapping his eyes open, he took in the library and jumped off to the carpeted floor. Ivan looked behind him at the sloping tunnel they had just exited then at the array of bookshelves that towered above them. He couldn’t believe that such an extravagant place was a mere feet away from normal Lavender Town.
Mark Antony approved. Once or twice, he had had the opportunity to enter a library, thanks to his military rank, but none have been as grand as this.
The air was filled with the scent of pine and mahogany, an expensive combination that almost sent Mark Antony reeling back in surprise. He couldn’t make out anything other than the giant bookshelves. Sliding off Terrence’s back, his paws touched the softest carpet he had ever encountered.
~ “I’ll return once I light the fireplaces.” ~
Mark Antony turned to see Terrence head off into the dark. ~ “You’ll have plenty of time to search for what you want.” ~
Mark Antony was about to say something when Ivan beat him to the punch. “Wait!”
The Pokémon looked over his shoulder expectantly.
Ivan thought the dog’s shining eyes were unnerving, but he still held the candelabra he picked up from one of the tables out. “Can you light this? You’re the only one that can see in the dark, after all.”
Terrence cocked his head in amusement. Nodding, a stream of fire weaved itself from his lips and around the candles. They burst to life, and Ivan had to stumble back in surprise; everything within five feet was suddenly crystal clear. Mark Antony was, once again, impressed.